By Bob Skolnik
This week, Michael Thomas will become the first Black member of the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education in at least 50 years and, in all probability, the first African American to ever serve on the board in the 132-year history of the school.
On Oct. 1, the school board spent more than four hours interviewing 17 applicants who had applied to fill the vacancy created when Barbara Rosinsky resigned in August. When they finally finished, they unanimously settled on Thomas, a LTHS alumnus and a member of the LaGrange-Brookfield Elementary School District 102 Board of Education.
Race and equity have been in the spotlight at LTHS since the summer, amid pressure to better serve Black students and other students of color. Thomas himself spoke at a July special meeting the LTHS school board held to discuss equity.
At that meeting, he told the school board it needed to focus on race, not just socio-economic status, when trying to boost the academic performance of low-achieving students. At District 102, Thomas has been leader in the district's Committee on Equity and Minority Achievement (CEMA).
LTHS school board President Tom Cushing told the Landmark he believes Thomas will bring a valuable perspective.
"I think it's not just LT. I think the whole country is in a moment right now of reflection and looking at things and realizing that there may be new ideas and new opportunities that haven't been pursued in the past," Cushing said. "I certainly believe, that those new ideas and fresh looks are better attained with an expanded perspective."
Thomas, 54 is a resident of LaGrange Park who grew up in LaGrange. He graduated from LTHS in 1985 and was a star middle distance runner on the track team. He said he wants to give back to the school that did so much for him.
"I received a valuable education from LT, and I want to give back to my alma mater in service for all students," Thomas said.
Thomas's experience as a board member was appealing to the current board members as they prepare to oversee the transition to a hybrid educational model this month, start to search for a new superintendent and deal with issues of race, equity and academic achievement.
"We believe he is a person of integrity with a long history of service to our community," Cushing said. "He is passionate about the education of all students and wants equity and opportunity for every student."
Thomas's appointment will run until April 2021, but he said expects to run next spring for the two-year seat to complete Rosinsky's term on the school board.
Thomas's parents graduated from LTHS in the 1965 and 1966, and his son is a junior at the school.
Thomas has served on the District 102 school board since 2017, when he was elected in an uncontested race.
"I really enjoyed my time working with my colleagues as well as with the administration to really help advance equity within the district," Thomas said. "I believe that the district has benefited back as it relates to equity and just the business of educating students overall."
District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher said Thomas was an excellent school board member.
"He was always incredibly prepared, asked great questions, was somebody who championed the cause of all children but also was very much behind the work we were doing in the area of equity and diversity," Schumacher said.
Thomas resigned his position on the District 102 school board on Oct. 2, and the District 102 school board will now seek applications from those who wish to serve out the final six months of his term.
After graduating from LTHS in 1985, Thomas went on to the University of Iowa where he earned degrees in journalism and sociology. He later earned an MBA from the University of Chicago.
He has worked in corporate marketing for more than 30 years and now manages the Solo cup account for the Dart Corporation. He has previously served two terms on the LTHS Community Advisory Council.
One of the 17 people who applied to fill the vacancy was former LTHS board member Phil Palmer. Cushing had nothing but praise for Palmer who finished fourth in last year's school board election in an unsuccessful bid for a third term.
"He was an excellent board member at LT. I hope that Mr. Palmer runs again in April," Cushing said.
Cushing said that he was gratified the board had so many candidates to choose from.
"There was a number of impressive candidates," Cushing said. "It was a terrific evening, because of all of the community members who expressed an interest in serving on the LT school board."