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Voter Guide: April 6, 2021 – District 171 Board elections

By Josh Bootsma

Background: The Lansing Journal made efforts to contact all candidates in the April 6 election to gather information to share with Lansing voters. Using a “candidate info form,” we asked the same questions of each local office seeker. Answers were prepared and submitted by the candidates. We have been sharing the info race by race in a series of “Voter Guide” posts.

LANSING, Ill. (March 5, 2021) – The Sunnybrook School District 171 Board oversees two schools in Lansing: Heritage Middle School and Nathan Hale Elementary School. Lansing residents living south of 186th Street are served by District 171.

Why school board elections matter

In the last year, Lansing families have felt the direct impact of school board decisions. The pandemic has changed the way Lansing students have gone to school, and the school boards in Lansing are responsible for approving the major changes Lansing schools have experienced in the face of COVID-19.

In addition to making re-opening and safety decisions, school boards establish vision, adopt budgets, vote on tax levies, set calendars, approve curriculum, and hire the Superintendent, who oversees the two schools in the District. Dr. Erika Millhouse-Pettis is the superintendent of District 171. All of these decisions have impacts on Lansing’s students.

District 171 Board elections – Five candidates running for four positions

The individuals below are the names voters will see on the April 6 ballot for the District 171 Board elections. Trustees serve a four-year term.

Understanding the District 171 Board election

A total of five candidates are running in the race for school board trustee, though two candidates are running for one two-year term while three candidates are running uncontested for four-year terms.

The two-year term is the remaining two years of an unfinished term, and the two candidates running for it (Timothy Terrell and Nicole Thompson) comprise the only contested election in the District 171 race.

District 171 Board
Cassie Hill (Photo provided)

Cassie Hill (4-year term)

Town of residence: Lansing

Education: Methodist Hospital Northlake Pharmacy Technician Program

Occupation: Cpht Pharmacy Technician, Cardinal Health

Resumé highlights

  • Sound decision making
  • Make critical decisions
  • Ability to set priorities
  • Conscientious
  • Working well with persons of diverse backgrounds
  • Reputation for working with integrity, honesty, and reliability

Most important issues: Ensure that no child is left behind due to changes in education administration by working with staff, students, and families to identify any educational needs, create a plan of action to meet those needs, create a template to ensure to track progress, and check in on meeting educational goals.

Goals and promises: Ensure safety guidelines are in place to protect staff and students from spreading illness by working closely with the local health department to make sure we are up to date with recommended standards of care, have staff designated for decontamination purposes, continued education of staff and families.

District 171 Board
Kenisha LeSure (Photo provided)

Kenisha LeSure (4-year term)

Town of residence: Lynwood

Education: Purdue University Calumet, BA Sociology-Criminal Justice, Paralegal Certification

Occupation: Paralegal-Tom Vaughn Chapter 13 Trustee

Resumé highlights:

  • Current Board Member fiscally responsible with the knowledge and passion to assist
    Sunnybrook 171 by appropriately sustaining its mission, visions, and goals highlighting
    “What’s Best for the Students”
  • IASB Master Board Member
  • Policy Committee Member

Most important issues: Prior to the start of the pandemic, our district had already been approved for eLearning. We are now attempting to fill the academic gaps left by the disruption of COVID, which must be achieved through equity and not equality as we focus on the individual needs of our students. Our district and staff are more than qualified to carry out this task.

As a current board member, I am proud that our district effectively trail-blazed and reopened to allow more students to participate in in-person learning. While the school was never completely shut down, the reopening allowed parents who elected through a survey to send their students back to school. We look forward to the day when we will all be comfortable returning. This is still an uphill battle. Our district is a puzzle comprised of many different entities—teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, support staff, and students. Not one component is valued more than the other.

While the negotiation process of the SEA’s contract seemed lengthy, it was successful in that it accommodated not only the teachers but all parties within the district. It was critical that no party nor detail was overlooked. It is important that our district remain fiscally responsible, operating within the parameters of our budget yet assuring that teachers and students are provided with the proper tools and devices needed to operate. Maintaining an unbiased board that will focus on the needs of the district in its entirety is the most important issue at stake in this race.

Goals and promises: As a mother of three students who have journeyed through Sunnybrook School District 171 since 2001 and have all gone on to have successful college careers, my goal as a mother and member of my community is to see that the children within my community are afforded the best education that we can provide for future leaders of our communities. In an effort to restore the continuity of education and bridge the gap left by COVID, it is important to plan summer school and support programs that will allow our students the opportunity to catch up as needed.

Focusing on the individual specific needs of our students can be done by returning the Heritage grading system back to quarters instead of trimesters to match that of Nathan Hale; adding and designing sensory hallways at Nathan Hale that will provide high energy students movement breaks that will assist in preventing disruptive behaviors from occurring within the classroom environment. The sensory path is designed to allow students to focus and return to class ready to learn. As safety is equally as important as our children return to school, in order to prevent the possibility of contamination our bathrooms must be remodeled, making them touch-free and sensor activated.

I will work with my fellow board members on these strategies so that all of our children have an equitable chance at education so that there are none left behind.

District 171 Board
Nicole Thompson (Photo provided)

Nicole Thompson (2-year term)

Town of residence: Lynwood

Education: Bachelor of Science of Allied Health

Occupation: Occupational Therapist

Resumé highlights

  • 25 years as an Occupational Therapist
  • 10 years as an Early Intervention therapist for the state of Illinois
  • 15 years as a youth leader at Family Christian Center
  • 15 years as a parent volunteer at Sunnybrook School District 171

Most important issues

  • Decrease Parent/Teacher and School Board collaboration
  • Lack of funding for technology within the district
  • Decrease or modified curriculum within the classroom

Goals and promises: I truly believe that every child deserves a quality education. We spend so much of our time acknowledging actors, athletes, and entertainers that our society does not invest in our youth. If elected, I will collaborate not only with teachers but with parents to create curriculum conducive to ensure growth for every child. I would also
apply for grants in order to receive additional funding for our school district to enhance our technology lab and school library.

In addition to this, I would like to implement programs within the community to bridge gaps for extra curriculum activities.

Timothy Terrell (2-year term)

Town of residence: Lynwood, IL

Education: Our Lady of the Lake University, BA; University of Phoenix, MBA

Occupation: Clinical Research

Resumé highlights

  • 35 years of experience in the business and medical industries.
  • Ability to provide strategic analytical expertise.
  • Provide progressive ideas and implementation to ensure the district is moving financially and educationally.

Most important issues: To ensure the district is equitable and financially solvent. That the children of this community have a strong scholastic foundation to pursue their goals and aspirations in their academic and professional career.

To provide a fair wage/salary for those working in the district.

Goals and promises: To be unbiased and impartial to the children, staff, faculty, and community of Sunnybrook School District 171. To work strategically as a team with all stakeholders within the community that will ensure the success of this district educationally and financially.

To pursue new and progressive teaching methods so that the children of this community have the same learning opportunities of those in other areas, either via e-learning or in-person learning.

Establish open communication with parents and teachers to address and bring resolution to their issues and concerns.

District 171 Board
Elissa Veloz (Photo provided)

Elissa Veloz

Town of residence: Lynwood

Education South Suburban College, Associate Degree

Occupation: Stay at home Mom

Resumé highlights

  • PTA President of Sunnybrook 171 PTA
  • Lansing Special Volunteer Award recipient
  • Volunteer as team Mom for Lynwood Little League since 2014

Most important issues: There should be more focus on boosting morale in the district which is conducive to a quality learning environment. Also, there should be an emphasis on transparency and adhering to rules and regulations.

Goals and promises: The best way to increase morale is by making everyone in the district feel valued. When a person feels valued they are more inclined to go above and beyond the call of duty because they feel appreciated. Also, I believe there should be emphasis on transparency and adhering to rules and regulations though out the district. I believe if we make these simple adjustments to the core of Sunnybrook’s mission we will strengthen the bond of trust with all stakeholders.

The District 171 Board elections will be held on April 6, 2021. District 171 offices are located at 19266 Burnham Avenue, Lansing, IL.


The Lansing Journal will continue to cover local election news ahead of the April 6 elections. Lansing Journal subscribers receive an email every morning with all of the previous day’s headlines, meaning they won’t miss any election-related news. Consider joining the thousands of people who have benefited from balanced, trustworthy, community-building news and sign up today:

Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.