Barely 18 and elected to a Lake County school board
Jake Leahy will return to a Lake County school district as one of the employees' bosses just four years after graduating from eighth grade.
Leahy, 18, was elected as a Bannockburn Elementary District 106 school board member last week. He was one of four candidates on the ballot in the election to fill four, 4-year terms and topped the field with 131 votes.
He'll be a Deerfield High School senior closing in on graduation when he's given the oath of office in May and, through the board position, becomes one of seven bosses of administrators, teachers and other employees. Leahy said he's up for the task of handling personnel decisions, finances and anything else that comes to the District 106 board.
"What I would say to people if they question my experience is there's seven people on the board and I'm one of seven," said Leahy, who lives in unincorporated Lake County near Deerfield and Bannockburn. "We have other people who are doctors, lawyers, all that, who understand the financial stuff, who understand the administrative side."
Leahy said an issue he plans to pursue is creating an advisory panel of students, recent alumni and the community at large to receive input on District 106 issues. He said he'll bring a fresh, young perspective to the school board.
District 106 school board members generally meet once a month. Leahy will attend University of Illinois beginning in August, but said the distance won't be a problem, and he's already alerted college officials about his plans to travel to Bannockburn for the meetings.
"I hope I'll be able to inspire some other people, younger people and just people in general, to say, 'Listen, I did it and I was 17 when I was running,'" said Leahy, who plans to major in agricultural consumer economics.
He was able to run in last week's election due to a measure signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016 that expanded the ability of Illinois teenagers to participate in the political process.
Leahy did not become legally eligible to vote or run for office until he turned 18 on March 17. However, the revised law allowed him to file nominating petitions in advance of his birthday and get on the April 4 ballot.
One of the few who know what it's like to hold public office as a teenager is Lake County Farm Bureau executive director Greg Koeppen of Grayslake. Koeppen was 19 when he won a contested race for Prospect Heights city council alderman in 1995.
Koeppen said residents in the Prospect Heights ward where he ran were surprised to learn of his young age, but were encouraging and excited to see a fresh face trying to enter local government.
"I was fortunate that from my first meeting, I wasn't treated like a 19-year-old, but rather looked at as an equal by my fellow aldermen," Koeppen said. "My advice to any young adult considering a run for office is first, do it, and second, take the position seriously and your colleagues will also treat you as an equal."
Leahy, who said he received positive feedback from residents during the campaign, will be on a District 106 board responsible for one school on Telegraph Road serving about 180 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Established roughly 85 years ago, District 106 includes Bannockburn and sections of Riverwoods, Highland Park and unincorporated Lake County.