Board Members » Board Members

Board Members

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Board Members

Dr. Tom Kostes

Dr. Tom Kostes was appointed to the board in 2006 to fill an unexpired term. Tom was first elected to the board in 2007 and was re-elected in 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023. Dr. Kostes serves as the board president. He graduated from Tilden Technical High School and received his B.S. and Masters degrees from George Williams College. Tom earned his doctorate in education from Loyola University. He also holds a Chief School Business Endorsement from Northern Illinois University. Tom and his wife Carolyn have two grown children and five grandchildren. Dr. Kostes is retired from North Palos District 117 where he served as superintendent.

Ron Moran

Vice President
Ron Moran was first elected to the board in 2009. He was re-elected to three additional four-year terms: 2013, 2017 and 2021. Ron graduated from Argo High School and attended Moraine Valley Community College and Winona State University. Mr. Moran graduated from the apprentice school for the IBEW Local 134. Ron and his wife Melissa have three daughters, all of whom have attended the district. Ron and Melissa have been involved in the community and the school district over the years, including PTAs and the Hickory Hills Baseball and Softball programs. Mr. Moran's background as a project engineer for an electrical contractor gives him a wealth of experience dealing with construction management and contract issues. Ron also serves as a part-time electrical inspector with the village of Justice. Mr. Moran serves as the board's vice president.

Debbie Groark

Debbie Groark was appointed to the board in September 2012. She was elected to the board the following year and was re-elected in 2017 and again in 2021. Mrs. Groark graduated from Stagg High School. She attended Moraine Valley Community College. Debbie and her husband Jay have two daughters. both of whom attended District 117. The Groarks have resided in Hickory Hills for more than 40 years. Debbie has been involved in the Girl Scouts for 30 years, including the last 18 years as a Girl Scout leader. Mrs. Groark remains a staunch advocate for quality education for all students. She attained the title of Master Board Member by attending various events, classes and conferences. Mrs. Groark also completed the LeaderSHOP Academy for continuous learning and she serves as a Delegate-at-large with the South Cook Division. She serves as the board secretary.

Sandy Szczygiel-Zeglin

Sandy Szczygiel-Zeglin was elected to the board in April 2023. Mrs. Szczygiel graduated from Queen of Peace High School and Loyola University, both in Chicago.  She and her husband Stanislaw Zeglin have four children. The Zeglins have resided in Palos Hills for more than 10 years. Sandy works as an accountant for a Fortune 500 company. She said she ran for a seat on the board because she wants to be part of a team that continues to chart the district's future. "We have amazing teachers and staff," Mrs. Szczygiel said. "I'm very proud to be part of this school district.  What the district is doing is phenomenal.  I cannot say enough great things about District 117. I would like to see it stay on the right track and not veer off course. She said she and her family love the outdoors, especially biking, hiking, camping, boating and skiing. 

Debbie Chafee

Debbie Chafee was elected to the board of education in April 2019 and re-elected in 2023. Mrs. Chafee is a business analyst trained in both accounting and finance. She is also a certified public accountant. Mrs. Chafee and her husband Ian, a former board member, have resided in Hickory Hills for more than 20 years and are the parents of two daughters: Grace and Katelyn. Mrs. Chafee said she ran for a seat on the board because she wanted to give back to the community and to share her extensive background in school district finance and school funding. She launched a one-woman crusade to stop a funding bill that would have cut millions of dollars from District 117. During the process, she became one of the most important and outspoken voices in the debate over education funding in Illinois. Mrs. Chafee founded an organization called EDGE Illinois (Everyone Deserves a Great Education) to inform parents and rally supporters. In the new funding formula that she helped rewrite, District 117 has received millions of dollars in additional state funding. "I feel very fortunate to live in such a great community and to have such great schools for our kids," she said. "I want to be part of a group that works together to keep our communities and schools successful and strong."

John Gawel

John Gawel was elected to the board in April 2023. Mr. Gawel has more than 20 years experience as a special education teacher in a nearby school district. John was raised in Palos Hills and he and his wife Christine are proud to be raising their two children there.  Mr. Gawel went to Brother Rice High in Chicago. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Eastern Illinois University and Masters' Degrees from Illinois State University and Dominican University. Both passionate educators, John and his wife have dedicated their lives to education because they care deeply about the opportunities that a quality education can provide. The couple are often found supporting their son in the Stagg HS marching band and their daughter at her swim meets. 

Lauren Potokar

Lauren Potokar was appointed to the board of education in November 2021 and was elected to a four-year term in 2023. Lauren is a hairdresser who owns her own salon. She was honored in 2020 by the Illinois State Board of Education in its Those Who Excel competition for Community Volunteer. Mrs. Potokar was the PTA president at Dorn School when she was nominated and remained on the PTA there while her twin sons Luke and Jake attended Glen Oaks School. She currently is president of the PTA at Glen Oaks School. Mrs. Potokar said she decided to seek a seat on the board to help provide the same great educational opportunities to all the students that her sons receive. "My sons are thriving and I am so proud of this district, its teachers, staff and administrators for all they do to ensure every student has the ability to succeed. I want to give back to a district that continues to give to all its students." Lauren and her husband Bill and their sons reside in Hickory Hills where the couple enjoy coaching their sons baseball teams. Mrs. Potokar said the family also enjoys traveling and hopes to visit as many states as possible.