Justin Clark | Provided

Justin Clark believes that the Lyons Township High School District 204 school board needs a professional educator on it. 

Clark, who is the associate principal for building operations at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, is one of two professional educators, the other is Plainfield District 202 Director of Student Services Tim Albores, running for one of the three seats available on the LTHS school board in April. Clark is running independently.

“Am I part of the education establishment? Absolutely, I’m going to say it’s more of positive or a negative for this reason,” Clark told the Landmark in a telephone interview.  “There is always a learning curve for people when they get on the school board to understand the jargon and the nuance of education. That would be just like for any job.”

As an educator, Clark says his focus would always be what’s best for kids. Both of Clark’s parents were educators. His father taught social studies for more than 30 years at Orland Junior High School and his mother was an English teacher at Palos South Middle School before becoming an assistant principal and then principal at the school. 

Clark, who grew up in Orland Park, initially didn’t pursue a career in education. After graduating from Eastern Illinois University with a degree in business, Clark was hired as a management trainee by the Hyatt Corporation. 

He then helped manage a downtown Chicago restaurant for a couple of years before following in his parents’ footsteps. He earned a second bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and was hired as an English teacher at Lockport High School.

Clark later moved to Shepard High School, where after seven years as an English teacher he became assistant principal for curriculum and instruction. He was hired at Richards in 2021. 

While working as an educator, Clark earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education.

Clark says that while test scores are important, LTHS must also focus on improving education is other ways, especially at a time when many colleges and universities are becoming admission test optional and employers are looking for people with soft skills.

“[SAT] an incredibly important data point, but schools and colleges and other things are looking at other ways to evaluate how schools and students are doing,” Clark said.

Clark said he wants to know how LTHS is doing in improving student growth and just not proficiency.

Clark is passionate about expanding opportunities for students who are interested in options other than going to college after high school.

“Every student that walks in should be able to have a rich experience through their four years to get themselves not only prepared to make that jump from high school to post high school and to thrive within it,” Clark said.

Clark, 44, is the youngest among the seven candidates vying for three seats on the school board. He is the only candidate who hasn’t had any children attend LTHS, although that will change next year when his son becomes a freshman. He is running an energetic campaign with a detailed and sophisticated website. He clearly enjoys talking about school issues.

Clark said that homework and the grading system at LTHS comes up often when talking with voters. He applauds the administration’s move to retreat on some of the changes made to the grading system a couple of years ago. Once again, homework counts towards a student’s final grade and to test retakes have been limited.

“I’m very, very happy that it seems like the school administration was responsive to the community regarding some of their concerns,” Clark said.

On another hot-button issue, Clark says LTHS should take the approximately 70-acre tract of undeveloped land it owns in Willow Springs off the market for the time being and work with the community after an attempted sale to an industrial firm fell apart.

The proposed sale drew strong opposition from those who live near the land and those whose children attend Pleasantdale Elementary School s just west of the LTHS parcel.

Clark criticized the LTHS administration and school board for not involving the community earlier. The school district did not announce that it was considering selling the land until eight months after being approached by the potential buyer.

“There definitely has been some level of miscommunication and there definitely has been a lack of engaging in the community,” Clark said. “The communication, the collaboration has been lacking. I do think the land needs to be sold, but you need to walk it all the way back in a really thoughtful way with full collaboration.” 

The LTHS school board race has strong ideological undercurrents this year, but Clark says he’s not interested in labels.

“Right now, I would say that I am the most non-partisan,” Clark said. “If you want to look at it real generally … I’m sort of taking positions from both those sides and I’m thinking about what is best for the kids.”