Highland Park resident Harvey Cohen is District 113’s longest standing Board of Education member. After 16 years of school service, Cohen will retire from his position at the end of his term in May.
“It’s with very mixed feelings that I will not be running for re-election,” Cohen said about his upcoming goodbye. “I feel that it is the right time to step down.”
Cohen moved to Highland Park with his wife in 1972 and watched his two daughters move through the Highland Park school system. “When they got to college they were better prepared than most of their college classmates,” he commented about the benefits of graduating from HPHS. His interest in the District 113 Board sparked after participating in several Highland Park caucuses.
“There hadn’t been any new blood on the school Board for a number of years and I decided to run,” he said. “I thought that it was time for me to give back a little bit and do something for the schools.”
When Cohen first joined the Board he said he was influenced by a fellow Board member’s philosophy. “Mike Kiss would always ask, ‘What’s in the best interest of the kids?’ He would then say, ‘The kids are first and foremost in everything that we do and in all of our considerations and decisions,’” Cohen recalled. “I tried living up to Mike’s motto.”
Cohen was elected Board president in 2011 and has since spent his time battling some of District 113’s biggest problems.
“I think the primary challenge our schools face and all the schools in the state face are monetary,” he said. “Federal and state funds are diminishing, costs and expenses are increasing. How do you continue to provide a quality education and provide for the resources that are needed to provide for a quality education with a diminishing source of funds?”
Cohen knows how essential Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools are to the District 113 community.
“Somebody moves to an area for various reasons but most people move to this area because of the schools because of the libraries because of the parks because of the beaches. People who have kids of school age need to be certain that their kids will get the best possible education, that’s why they pick this area,” he said and emphasized the importance of continuously investing in the high schools.
“The schools in my opinion support the real estate value of your house,” he stated.
“When people complain and I moan about my taxes I sort of have to pinch myself and remind myself that there are communities where the tax rate is twice as high as ours and the schools have a fraction of the money that we have to spend on education so we really are blessed by the resources that our communities have.”
Although the Board is constantly faced with making District 113’s tough decisions, Cohen truly appreciates the benefits of being a Board member.
“I really enjoy when teachers and students come before the Board and tell us what they’re doing, what they want to do, innovations they’ve made and want to make in the classroom, and the changes and movements that are in education,” he said.
“I realize that I went to high school decades ago and education today is so vastly different, the approaches, the way subjects are taught, the attitudes and philosophies. It amazes me how things have progressed and improved.”
As Cohen’s time on the Board ends, he encourages other community members interested in education to get involved.
“I really hope there are some individuals that will run for the school Board who come forth without a specific agenda or program but whose interest is the benefit and wellbeing of all students,” he said. “I hope they come to the Board with an open mind and fresh ideas.”
District 113 will be releasing Board member profiles in the following weeks in an attempt to familiarize community members with their elected school officials. Upcoming Board member profiles will all be posted on Dist113.org.