A new generation is about to make their voices heard on the Komarek Elementary School District 94 Board of Education.
Four newcomers energized by recent referendum campaigns and one incumbent are vying for the four seats up on the Komarek school board in April.
The four newcomers are Raul Jasso, Willie Merrill, Holly Neumann and Melissa Obrock. The only incumbent running for another term is Frank Savaglio, who was appointed in 2018 when Jonathan Hoadley resigned.
Incumbents Al Sarro, Rashida McKelvin and Carolyn Lach have all decided not to run for another term.
Obrock was a leader in the successful 2020 campaign to pass a $20.8 million bond referendum to overhaul and expand Komarek School. In 2019, a slightly more expensive referendum was defeated. Obrock served as co-chair of the Vote Yes campaign for both attempts.
A resident of North Riverside for 12 years, Obrock, 41, works as director of major gifts for the Brookfield Zoo and is the mother of two Komarek students, a seventh-grader and a fifth-grader.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State, where she majored in psychology and women’s studies. She has a master’s degree in higher education from Loyola University.
“I think I understand both the strengths and weaknesses of the school and have really enjoyed my time working toward the passage of the referendum,” said Obrock. “I feel like running for a spot on the school board is a natural progression of the work that I’ve been doing for the past few years.”
Obrock, Merrill, Neumann and to a lesser extent Jasso, got to know each other during the referendum campaigns. While they are not running as a slate, they do talk and help each other out.
“I would describe it as a supportive collaboration,” Neumann said. “I think we’re supporters of each other.”
Jasso, Merrill, Neumann and Obrock all say that they want to increase transparency and communicate better with the community.
“For me, the big thing is community engagement and making sure that the community understands how to be involved with the school, to maintain the positive energy we’ve created,” Obrock said.
While working on the referendum campaigns, they discovered that many residents didn’t know much about the school and felt left in the dark about school affairs.
“I just heard from people over and over again that they wanted more transparency,” Neumann said.
Neumann, 39, works as a public health analyst for RTI. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Illinois State University and a master’s degree in public policy and administration from Northwestern University.
She is the mother of a Komarek third-grader and another child who is in pre-kindergarten. She has lived in North Riverside for six years.
Jasso and Merrill are both Komarek graduates, Jasso in 1995 and Merrill in 1998 and have moved back to the community. Merrill, 36, grew up in Broadview and now lives across the street from Komarek. Merrill works as a transitions care coordinator for Encompass Health, a home health care company. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in kinesiology and community health.
“Giving a voice to the younger generation,” Merrill said about his reason for running. “A lot of my friends have moved back to the neighborhood as well.”
Merrill is the father of Komarek first-grader and a pre-kindergarten student.
Jasso, 39, is a sales consultant for Burke Beverage, a beer distributer based in McCook. He graduated from Illinois State University majoring in international business and marketing.
Jasso is the father of two future Komarek students, a 2 year old and a 9 month old.
“I want to start focusing on the school system,” said Jasso, whose wife teaches at a school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.
Jasso and his wife have been active in Chill, an organization that introduces underprivileged children to snowboarding.
Savaglio, 40, is the father of three children, two of whom graduated from Komarek and a son who is a Komarek fifth-grader.
“I like to have a holistic approach to education, things like shop class, fishing club, home economics,” Savaglio said. “I know that every year my kids would bring home some type of sculpture or a little wooden thing.”
Savaglio is a sergeant with the Cicero Police Department. In 2019, a former Cicero auxiliary police officer sued the Town of Cicero, Savaglio and two other Cicero police officers in federal court, charging that she had been sexually harassed and assaulted by the officers.
The case was settled out of court in October. The Town of Cicero has yet to release the amount of the settlement. Savaglio said that he did not pay any portion of the settlement.
In her lawsuit the plaintiff, Nadia Bull, charged that Savaglio pestered her with requests to allow him to get to know her and once went over to her apartment under the guise of discussing career advancement with her and then sexually assaulted her.
The lawsuit also alleged that Savaglio told Bull that she could lose her job if she complained about the incident.
In a written court filing, Savaglio denied the allegations and the case never went to trial.
“All I can say is those allegations were false,” Savaglio told the Landmark. “It’s all a civil matter and if any of it were true, I think I’d be looking at criminal charges, which I never did.“