Two incumbents, two professional educators, and a Hollywood resident have filed to run for the three seats up next spring on the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board.
School board President Mike Welch, a Riverside resident, has decided to not run for a third term on the board.
“I think eight years is enough and I served my community well,” said Welch who has served as president of the board since April 2015.
But eight years is not enough for board member Matt Sinde, a Brookfield resident who originally was elected to the board in 2009 running on a slate with Welch. Sinde has decided to run for a third term.
Sinde says there is more that he wants to accomplish, especially working to improve services to students who don’t go on to four-year colleges.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in the time we’ve been here as board members,” Sinde said. “I think there is a little bit more we want to move on.”
Attorney Ed Jepson, of Riverside, will run for his second term on the board.
“It’s been an honor to work for the Riverside-Brookfield High School students, parents, teachers, and the community, and I hope to continue that work as we deal with the challenges that lie ahead for our district as well as others in the state of Illinois,” Jepson said.
The two professional educators running are Ramona Towner, of Brookfield, and Gina Sierra, of North Riverside.
Towner has worked for 26 years for the South Berwyn School District 100 and serves as an instructional coach specializing in the integration of technology into teaching. She works directly with teachers and has helped to implement her district’s one-to-one computer program that provides students with either a MacBook or a tablet.
She served on a technology committee at RBHS that led to providing Chromebooks to all incoming RBHS students.
“I think the curriculum and the technology integration piece is my strength,” Towner said.
She has two children, one a RBHS graduate and another son who is currently a junior at RBHS.
Towner is the wife of former Brookfield Village Board member Mike Towner, who ran unsuccessfully for Brookfield village president in 2013 and for trustee in 2015.
Sierra is a first-year principal at Pennoyer School which is a pre-K through eighth grade school in Norridge and is completing a term as a member of the Komarek School District 94 Board of Education.
“I think that my background in education gives me a unique perspective that I think is valuable to being on the board,” Sierra said.
Prior to becoming a school principal, Sierra served as an assistant principal at North School in Villa Park for three years. She has been in education for 23 years and started out as a classroom teacher in Berwyn and Cicero before becoming a reading specialist for 11 years.
She has two sons, an eighth grader at Komarek and a sophomore at RBHS.
“I’m not really running for the board because I have an agenda,” Sierra said. “I love RB. I think that the education my son is receiving is fantastic. I think the teachers are wonderful. Dr. Skinkis and Ms. Smetana are doing a wonderful job.”
If elected Sierra would be the first North Riverside resident to serve on the District 208 school board since Karen Bensfield was defeated in her run for re-election in 2009.
“Our kids do feed into RB, so I think it just be a benefit to have someone from our community,” Sierra said.
Towner and Sierra are the first K-12 educators to run for the District 208 school board since Sue Kleinmeyer left the board six years ago.
William “Wes” Smithing lives in the Hollywood section of Brookfield. He said that he doesn’t think the board listened to the Hollywood community when first developing plans for a new parking lot on land the district owns just north of Hollywood School. That controversy, finally settled last week, got him thinking about running for the school board.
“That was the motivating factor,” Smithing said. “You can jump and down and cry wolf or you can participate.”
Smithing has three boys, the oldest of whom is a freshman at RBHS.
He works as a manager of facilities design and construction for United Ground Express, a wholly owned subsidiary of United Airlines. He has a background in information technology and earlier in his career worked in the restaurant and resort management business.
He said that he is concerned about class sizes at RBHS and would like to boost guidance and services for students not going on to four year colleges.
“We need to look at what we’re doing to prepare these students for a productive career choice,” Smithing said.