District 209 Board Candidates Lay Out Opposing Positions

Children FirstHarrell, Matthews and Raines-Welch.

District 209 Together CandidatesWagner, Madina and Kelly

Monday, March 30, 2015 || By Michael Romain 

The District 209 Board of Education race is essentially a contest of two opposing visions. The two competing sides offered stark contrasts in both governing style and potential policy directions during Wednesday Journal endorsement interviews in March.

The Children First slate, comprising municipal and education attorney ShawnTe Raines-Welch; youth minister Theodore Matthews; and current D209 board member Francine Harrell — wants to build on what it believes has been significant progress the district has made under Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart.

The 209 Together slate — comprising Theresa Kelly, the longest-serving member on, and former president of, the D209 board; Nathan Wagner, a psychology and human services administrator; and Claudia Medina, a school board advisor, teacher and administrator— wants to initiate bottom-up reform of a district they say is broken and in need of substantial repair.

Below is a rundown of areas both slates addressed during the interview process. Although all three 209 Together candidates were available for questions, only Raines-Welch appeared for the interview from the Children First slate.

Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart’s performance

Children First: In her questionnaire, Harrell wrote that she is in full support of Dr. Hart. During the interview, Raines-Welch said, “I have seen the progress the schools have made under her direction” and that “at the end of the day, facts don’t lie.”

She cited higher test scores across district schools, and Hart’s implementation of joint board meetings between D209 and its elementary feeder districts, as evidence of progress.

209 Together: Wagner said that if he and his running-mates were elected, they would raise their expectation of Hart’s performance.

“A good example,” he said. “One of her jobs is to communicate and do public relations in the community. I don’t see her doing that,” he said.

 Proviso Math and Science Academy

Children First: Raines-Welch said that the school has been a success based on its high ranking among other high schools in the state and the performance of its student population on standardized tests.

As to its effect on Proviso East and Proviso West, she said, “I don’t think the other sister schools suffer by having three schools.”

209 Together: Wagner and Kelly addressed PMSA’s underutilization, noting that, although the school only has about 821 students, it is built for 1,200 kids. The slate feels that PMSA has diverted resources away from its sister schools.

District 209’s relationship with its feeder districts

Children First: Raines-Welch said that the relationship between D209 and its feeder districts “needs to be one of cooperation.”

She noted that Collins-Hart has instituted joint board meetings between the districts, in which officials from the high schools and elementary schools visit each other’s meetings.

209 Together: Kelly said that there had once been an articulation committee set up to act as a liaison between District 209 and its feeder districts.

However, “no one has done that job for years,” she said. “I was [once] assigned to that committee and [a month later] it was pulled.”

Kelly also noted that the district has initiated annual articulation summits — which are conferences that allow D209 officials to intermingle and bounce ideas off of officials from its feeder districts.

One year, however, District 89 had no representation. Wagner said that the feeder districts or “not accountable to 209 or to each other.”

D209’s financial condition

Children First: Raines-Welch said that the district has made some positive budgetary changes within the last 10 years that have led to better fiscal management and balanced budgets.

209 Together: Wagner said that “there’s a lot of money that can be created just by spending it properly.”

Medina noted that while the district has made progress with the Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) in place, the fact that the FOP is getting ready to leave in 2016 “terrifies us.”

“We had a $76 million reserve and it’s all gone with nothing to show for it,” she said.

The general state of District 209 high schools

Children First: Raines-Welch said that her party is focused on emphasizing the positive developments that have occurred in the district.

“We’re vested in this community, we’re from this community [and] we’re proud of our school district. It’s not perfect, but point me to a school district that is,” she said. “We have to accept our students for where they are. … Our slate is running on the positive achievements the district has made. … You can’t go into elected office with such a negative mentality.”

Raines-Welch said when her two young children get old enough, they’ll be going to Proviso West. She and her husband, former Proviso District 209 board President and current state Rep. Emmanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th) live in Hillside.

209 Together: Kelly said that D209 schools are at the worst level she’s seen during her time on the board and that parents don’t feel welcome when they go into the schools.

“My son walked into [Proviso East] with me while I was taking a tour, and he was scared,” said Medina, adding that she hasn’t encountered a parent who looks forward to sending his or her child to Proviso East.

Members of the slate pointed to a lack of resources such as textbooks, low teacher morale, political hiring and an intimidating atmosphere that prevents many willing parents from volunteering at the school as reasons for their pessimism.

Both Wagner and Medina said that they would not send their own children to Proviso East in the state that it’s in. Medina said that, if her son tested into PMSA, she would consider allowing him to attend.

On candidates’ perceived weaknesses

Children First: Raines-Welch was asked if her being married to the former D209 board president would have any bearing on her decision-making on the board.

Raines-Welch said that it’s unfair and tacitly sexist to make the inquiry, since it assumes that she can’t decide independently of her husband.

She said she doesn’t often encounter the question on the campaign — only among “the naysayers.”

209 Together: Medina was asked whether or not her deep emotional ties to the schools situation would impair her ability to govern relatively impartially as a school board member:

Medina conceded that she is very passionate about the issue, but that it would only inform her skill set and knowledge base she would bring to the board.

The party also noted that empathy toward students was lacking at the board level and that it would bring more of it when making board decisions. VFP


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4 thoughts on “District 209 Board Candidates Lay Out Opposing Positions

  1. Thank you for the comparisons. In my experience, After starting out as a rabid reformer, I have learned that a progressive perspective goes a long way. I sat next to Theresa Kelly for 4 years, I look at her voting record and that tells me a lot about how collaborative she really is.Being a contributing board member requires keeping a calm temperament and listening. Children First candidates seem to be ready to build on what has been already demonstrated by the current board vision. 209 Together seems stuck in a old political false narrative that is easy to blame ready and quick to punish, often never really fixing the proplem. My vote goes to the school board candidates that are ready to discard egos and work interdependently. I also go on the record as a supporter of Dr. Collins-Hart who has been often caught in the middle, people forget she is the professional educational leader at 209 . She always has been diligent in making the students her focus. Kudos to VFP for serving a balanced approach in differentiating the 209 candidates. Last thing. whom ever does get elected still needs to be accountable to the students and find common-ground to connect all the Proviso communities.

  2. A little insight on Mr. Cox’s comment:

    Robert Cox was a willing and active participant in upholding the failed policies of Chris Welch and the current board majority. He served under the political influence of the State Rep and is beholden to him currently therefore he speaks in Welch’s behalf.

    The question to ShawnTe Raines-Welch was not about her being a woman, but about the political influence of her household. She will walk lock step with his political agenda and that puts our communities and children at a severe disadvantage. A disadvantage we can no longer afford.

    We are now witnessing the worst in Proviso politics. With the smear campaign, ugliness and reprehensible hate mail attack that was launched by the Children First Party, it is abundantly clear that the State Rep Chris Welch has a huge political and financial stake in this election.

    For years, many of us didn’t take our local school board elections seriously, but you now notice that to the State Rep and select local mayors, this is not a game. This is their way of life. This is their bread and butter. This is their livelihood.

    When we dismiss D209 as an afterthought, they embrace it as a jobs program for their friends, families and political workers. When we disregard what’s happening in our schools, they prioritize it with contracts and political favors for their buddies. What we see as mismanagement and waste, they see as an opportunity to leverage against D209 employees to do their dirty work.

    I know grown men and women…Friends and family who were outspoken against the current and past corruption of the school board who are now eerily quiet, stripped of their man and womanhood for fear of losing their jobs. Is this the life we want for the fellow citizens of our district, our friends, our neighbors, our up and coming young adults? The political strangle hold that the State Rep has on our communities must stop now and it must stop today!

    We have extremely intelligent people with big hearts that will give their all to see this District grow and prosper. Good people who will volunteer their time and money to make our communities strong and vibrant. Great people who want the best and would give the best. But they won’t! The ugliness and the despicable personal attacks waged by the state rep disenfranchises good people and there is nothing more dangerous and damaging to any community than disenfranchised people. Citizens who are uninterested in fighting for what’s right and best because of the attacks that will ensue.

    These ungrateful politicians…These energy and financial bloodsuckers who feast on our community are not noble and definitely not loyal. Their sole aim is to harm and protect their interest, blatantly disregarding the pleas and voices of the community.

    It is time for us to say enough…Never, no more will we allow the State Rep to drain our community of our resources!

    Never, no more will we allow our children to be subjected to a sub par educational system controlled by the Mayors and politicians!

    Never, no more will we accept mediocrity as a standard and failure as a norm!

    The time is now for 209 to come together and unify for our community, our property values, our quality of life, our safety and most of all, for our kids sake! We owe our children nothing less!

    Let’s unify! With Proviso Together we will make success the standard and excellence habitual.

  3. For the record there is no “little insight” gained. I don’t pay attention to anonymous speculations made by a spectator cynics and those obsessed in the the Proviso political/ corruption conspiracy theory. The reality is that there is not a political solution only to fix PTHS. The reality after next week, is that all the grumbler’s rhetoric and loser’s self righteous polemics will acquiesce and hibernate another 2 years and we start all over again.How many stakeholders ever paid attention to any of the state of the PTHS addresses? How may actually joined and follow the PTHS website and follow programs and news. How many stakeholders have talked to administrators, teachers and students that are in the PTHS system? I can’t speak for them, but I can speak for my self and I have done the walk for over 15 years. I look back and wish the conversation and work completed was education focused and not the entitlement culture of job security issues that I had to endure.The “willing and active” tag is simply false. Look at my voting record , my other board work including Teachers/ union contract negotiations, Proviso Foundation, and my testimony in Springfield after I finished my term. On my own dime when necessary. If you want an assessment of the BOE relationship between Chris Welch and I , I suggest you ask either one of us, in the meantime voters need to make decision based on issues not political hysteria.

  4. Robert Cox,

    There’s no trumped up hype or hysteria. The citizens of Proviso Township are fed up with the blatant disrespect and political agenda of your boss State Rep Welch. It is very clear to us that Welch’s political and financial livelihood is contingent on the outcome of the D209 school board election and since you answer to him, so is yours.

    He has continually disrespected our township at our children’s expense and we have formed a united front to wrestle control back and place it where it belongs…In the hands of the good citizens of our community.


    Kelly. Wagner. Medina

    We expect the hateful ads, the nasty flyers and the deceitful campaign orchestrated by Chris and ShawnTe. Why would we expect any different from a man (and I use that term loosely) who started an anonymous blog from a computer of his law firm solely to launch nasty attacks on his fellow board members. Created a blog to slander his then board lawyers…That is not an action of an honest man, no! That is an action of a coward!

    We the people of Proviso Township have had enough!

    It’s over! It’s finished! It’s done!

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