Critics of the Lyons Township High School Board of Education and administration policies and of the school board’s attempt to sell the nearly 70-acre tract of land it owns in Willow Springs appear to be coalescing around three candidates in the school board race, Timothy Vlcek, Frank Evans, and David Herndon.
Janelle Towne, the leader of Awake Illinois’ Western Springs chapter, is one of those supporting Vlcek, Evans, and Herndon.
In a post on her personal Facebook page, after criticizing the LTHS leadership for what she called lies, deceit and deception concerning LTHS’s attempt to sell the Willow Springs property, Towne wrote “Elect Frank Evans, Timothy Vlcek and David Herndon”.
Towne told the Landmark the message was posted on her personal page and was not an endorsement from Awake Illinois, a right-wing group that initially opposed mask mandates in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and has evolved to oppose what it sees as left-leaning teaching about race and gender in schools. Critics of Awake Illinois have called the group hateful and anti-LGBTQ+.
Vlcek, Evans and Herndon held a meet and greet event at Flagg Creek Golf Course in Indian Head Park on Feb. 15. The other four candidates for the LTHS school board were not invited.
“We’re not on a ticket together,” said Vlcek, a resident of LaGrange Park who works as the director of plant operations for Weinstein Wholesale Meats. “I mean we were invited by the people of Willow Springs, that’s all I know.”
However, the three do appear to be working together in some fashion. On his campaign page on Facebook, Evans recently posted a message stating people could obtain yard signs for him, Vlcek and Herndon by contacting him, stating “We need your support to affect positive change for LTHS.”
Promotional material about the event mentioned the proposed Willow Springs land sale which fell apart last month.
A notice about the event was posted on the Facebook page of Awake Illinois Western Springs, according to a screen shot sent to the Landmark.
Evans, who could not be reached for comment on Feb. 20, told the Landmark in December that he was aware of Awake Illinois, but was not active in it.
“I get their text updates and I follow them on Facebook, but I have not been to any meetings or anything like that at all,” said Evans, a LaGrange resident who founded and runs the firm CBA Pensions.
Vlcek and Herndon, who both graduated from LTHS, said that they have no connection to Awake Illinois.
“I don’t even know anybody at Awake Illinois,” Vlcek said.
Herndon, a resident of LaGrange who served for 12 years on the LaGrange District 105 school board, eight as president until he was defeated in a bid for a fourth term in 2021, said he has no connection with Awake Illinois or other partisan groups.
“I am not connected with any organizations like that,” said Herndon a vice president at an investment firm. “I don’t know Janelle; I’ve never met Janelle. I’m not supported by anyone at Turning Point, 1776, I’m not supported by Indivisible.
“I wouldn’t answer Indivisible’s questionnaire because school board elections are non-partisan and that’s a partisan group just as those other ones are. I don’t believe in what they stand for. I don’t believe in any groups that try to demonize and tear apart other human beings, which is why I don’t participate and I’m not associated with any of them. I can’t help what anyone says.”
Vlcek, Herndon and Evans all said that they were not running as a slate although emails are being sent to voters in District 204 asking them to vote for the three of them.
“We’re running independently, our platforms are very similar,” Vlcek said.
Vlcek said that any sale of the Willow Springs property should conform to its existing zoning.
“I’m not saying they shouldn’t sell the property, what I’m saying is that it should be sold the way that it is zoned to maintain the integrity of Willow Springs,” Vlcek said.
All three have said that they are concerned about a decline in academic standards at LTHS.
“Education and not lowering standards is important to me,” said Vlcek who is a volunteer mentor at LTHS in the school’s business incubator program. “Everybody getting a trophy is not the way the real world works. And do I think they’ve gotten away with that.”
They have also been critical of the new grading system that has been used at LTHS for the past couple of years, but which has been modified significantly this year to make homework once again count towards a student’s grade and to limit retakes of tests.
Herndon said his youngest daughter, a freshman at the University of Kentucky, called him this year and said that she was surprised not to be able to retake tests in college as she could at LTHS. Herndon said that he thinks his older daughter, who graduated from LTHS four years before his youngest daughter, was better prepared for college.
Evans is also concerned about academic standards at LTHS.
“These past couple of years have been difficult as far as the COVID lockdowns, and there’s been some serious challenges in the past couple years and I think the school has potentially strayed away from fundamentals,” Evans said. “I’m running just to make sure that there’s some solid stewardship, get the school back on track and hopefully start to increase these rankings and get back to the fundamentals of learning.”
The other candidates in the LTHS school board race are school board President Kari Dillon, incumbent Jill Beda Daniels, and two school administrators. Tim Albores is director of student services at Plainfield District 202 and Justin Clark is an assistant principal at Richards High School.
Albores and Clark both said that they are running independent campaigns and didn’t want to comment about any alliance Vlcek, Evans and Herndon might have. Beda Daniels declined to comment on her opponents. Dillon said, “I hope that they’re running for all the good reasons that make board members effective board members, which is that they care about the community and students and teachers.”
Two other candidates who filed to run in December, Jill VanHimbergen and Gina Sirchio-Lotus, withdrew from the race last month. While both said that the time commitments were a factor in their decisions to drop out, VanHimbergen said finding out that Evans, Herndon and Vlcek were allied and had similar views also contributed to her decision to withdraw.
“I do think the more that we can not split the vote between likeminded people, that could help some of the better candidates to get on,” said VanHimbergen, a former teacher. “And a lot of the candidates that are not running in that kind of conservative slate just have more school experience too. They actually have careers in education so just from an experience standpoint they probably would be better suited too.”