Category: Interviews

A Brief Conversation with New D88 Board President Sondra McClendon

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Thursday, May 4, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

The April 4 elections spelled significant change to Bellwood District 88, which has several new executive officers and a new board majority after members of the Bellwood Education Dream Team slate — Deborah Giles, Maria Perez and Dorothy C. Smith — won three of the four open seats on that board.

The successful challengers have allied with incumbent board member Sondra McClendon, a vocal critic of Superintendent Rosemary Hendricks.

Many parents, district employees and community members had singled out Hendricks and former board president Marilyn Thurman, who was reelected to the board in April, “for adding their children and friends to the payroll and awarding contracts to vendors and consultants with whom they have personal connections. They have also spent on travel and perks as administrative costs have grown,” according to an April 2 Chicago Tribune article.

Recently, I spoke with McClendon, now the new D88 board president, about her plans for the new position. Maria Perez was elected vice president and Dorothy C. Smith was elected board secretary.

What’s your vision for the district?

I’m a product of District 88. I grew up here and have been in the community for the past 40 years. When I was coming up, the schools were always prominent. They were good and I just want to bring that back. I want to establish a foundation and give our children a head start to make sure they are successful. In the past, they’ve been robbed of that opportunity and we just want to bring order back to the district for their sake.

What are some specific changes the new board majority will make under your direction?

One of the biggest things I saw happening in the past was a lack of accountability. We really want to make people accountable in the district. There are a lot of policies in the district that are antiquated and need to be revised and revisited.

One of them is our nepotism policy, which was removed years ago. We want to bring that back and get that re-established. We also want to change our spending policies.

There was a lot of controversy about the superintendent’s hiring of security guards to watch the administrative offices. Will that change?

It is a fact that, at the middle school, we do need security, but at the administration building, security is not needed. We’re going to review this and evaluate the need. But it’s definitely not needed at the administration building.

Anything else the community needs to know now that the election is over?

The race has been won but now the real work begins. In that work, we’re still going to need the community to come out and be actively engaged and support us in the mission of what we’re going to do. It really does take a village. We can’t do it on our own. We need the support of the district going forward. VFP

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Andre Harvey is Poised to Become Bellwood’s First Black Mayor

Andre Harvey.pngThursday, March 2, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Andre Harvey, Bellwood’s director of public safety, is poised to become the village’s first African-American mayor on April 4. Bellwood’s current mayor, Frank Pasquale, 79, is retiring after 16 years in the position. Harvey, who is running unopposed, is Pasquale’s handpicked successor.

During an interview on Wednesday, Harvey, 53, talked about his life in Bellwood, Pasquale’s mentorship and what his priorities will be once he assumes office.

On life in Bellwood

I moved to Bellwood 48 years ago in 1969. My parents are still living in Bellwood. I met my wife of 36 years in 6th grade at Roosevelt Elementary School. We have two kids and two granddaughters.

When we moved to Bellwood, my family was probably the first African-American family on the block on 22nd and Randolph. I’m a product of District 88 and District 209. I graduated from Roosevelt Elementary before going on to Roosevelt Junior High School, where I graduated in 1977. I graduated from Proviso West High School in 1981.

In 1982, I joined the military. I was in the army from 1982 until 1985. When I came back to Bellwood, I got a job at the U.S. Postal Service. I worked there until 1988, when I had the fortunate opportunity to become the first African-American firefighter in Bellwood.

From there, I became the first African-American fire chief in Bellwood in 1996. So, I was a firefighter for 26 years and fire chief for 20 years. As a firefighter, I became an arson investigator. In 2010, the mayor promoted me to director of public safety, which involved heading the police and fire departments, and emergency services. In 2010, I went back to the police academy to become a state certified police officer.

Why are you running for mayor? And why is Pasquale retiring?

I sat down with Mayor Pasquale, we discussed it and we thought it would be a great idea for me to run. I’ve been living here for over 48 years.

I’ve worked closely with Mayor Pasquale for over 20 years. He was a trustee for a number of years before he became mayor in 2001. From then until now, he’s mentored me; him as well as Village Clerk Lena M. Moreland have mentored me, groomed me, and taught me for 16 years on the ins and outs of politics and how to make sure our community is becoming a better community.

The mayor didn’t know if he wanted to run again or retire. He’s 79 years old and has been working for over 50 years. This past year, he made the decision to spend some time with his family. He has grandchildren he wants to see grow. So, we sat down and talked about me running.

Bellwood’s been moving forward for the last 16, 17, 18 years and I refuse to step back and not continue that upward movement for Bellwood. I care about the community. I’ve been there so long, my parents live there.

What are some things that you want to keep going?

One is economic development. We want to make sure Bellwood is moving forward. We just finished the 25th Avenue overpass, which is going to bring in about 55,000 cars down 25th Avenue now that there isn’t the delay that we had with those trains. I believe that 25th Ave. is primed for economic development. So, we want to bring in new businesses on that corridor, in addition to the Mannheim and St. Charles corridors.

What’s happening with the site of the former Walgreen’s at 25th and Washington?

Since the deep tunnel project that went from Bellwood all the way to Chicago we’ve had more flooding. In 2010 and 2013 we had serious floods. We’ve had the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District come into Bellwood and install a $127 million retention pond in that area that we hope will reduce the flood plain.

There are approximately 900 homes in that floodplain right now. When that retention pond is done, we estimate that 800 of those homes will come out of the flood zone. Right now, people are paying $2,500 to $5,000 a year on flood insurance. If we can get that retention pond done, those people will be able to save that money they’re currently spending on flood insurance.

Will the mini-mall be affected? And what are the village’s plans to get that development to capacity because right now it’s seriously underdeveloped

The mini-mall will stay there. Currently, a receiver is managing that location. They’re trying to get new businesses to come in there. Right now, there’s a Dollar General that moved into one of the spaces. There’s a proposal in the works for another sit-down, café style establishment to move in there. We project that, with more cars coming down 25th Avenue, more businesses will want to move into that development.

The McDonalds in that area will be expanding very soon. We’re proud to say that’s one of the busiest McDonald’s in the western suburbs. In the coming months, they’ll be doing work to make it bigger and more inviting to customers.

Bellwood has been building houses for some years. What are the plans for that program when you get in office?

Over the last 16 years, we’ve been redeveloping locations that haven’t been doing so well. About five years ago, we put in five new homes on Bellwood Avenue in the 100 block. Then we had a piece of land on the 500 block of Englewood that had been vacant for something like the last 30 years. We put in three new homes there.

So, going forward, on that land we have on the 3200 block of Randolph, right behind Memorial Park District, we’re putting in 12 new homes. The people in Bellwood have always said they’re looking for bigger homes. We have a nice stock of smaller homes, or starter homes to some people, but as families grow, they want bigger homes. All of those homes we built in the past have sold pretty quickly, so we’re projecting that these will sell pretty quickly as well.

I know the village doesn’t have much control over the school and library districts, but a lot of people are concerned about what’s happening in those taxing bodies. Will you endorse any candidates running for library and school board seats?

As a new mayor coming in, I won’t really be pushing any side. I am, however, vowing that once I become mayor, I will work very closely with the school board to try to make a great effort to turn the school system around. I plan on working with whoever is sitting in those board seats. VFP

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Could the ‘Grocery Store of the Future’ Land in Maywood? Thom Alcazar Hopes So

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Screenshot from an EATS informational video on its website. Below left, EATS Groceries founder Thom Alcazar. 

thom_alcazar.jpgThursday, February 9, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Thom Alcazar, the founder of Alcazar, Ltd., a consulting firm that provides expert knowledge in business automation, believes that he has a blockbuster idea on his hands and wants to deliver it to economically distressed communities like Chicago’s North Lawndale and Austin, and suburbs like Maywood.

It’s called EATS Groceries, and if Alcazar and his team have their way, the store could be housed in the old Maywood Market building at the corner of 5th Ave. and Washington Blvd. within roughly a year’s time after securing a deal.

On the surface, it’s an innovative concept that’s smoothly articulated in a neat, roughly 2-minute video on the EATS website.

“Shopping has become a chore,” the baritone-voiced narrator says. “Long aisles, long lines and screechy carts to push. Eats provides a safe and convenient concierge-type shopping experience, as well as transportation along major routes to our locations.”

Trained assistants, the voice-over notes, will guide shoppers to digital kiosks, where customers would place orders and receive assistance in other matters. Cooking demo kiosks will provide 30-minute tastings of “low-cost, healthy meal samples.”

Once the orders are punched into the kiosks, representatives in a warehouse will put them together and pack them “as they are received through the touch-screen shopping.”

Customers at EATS, the narrator says, won’t have to worry about waiting lines, cold aisles, inconsistent temperature controls or stress. The whole concept seems pulled from an episode of the Jetsons, which may both appeal and repulse, depending on the demographic.

During a public meeting about the concept held last week at St. Eulalia Parish in Maywood, Alcazar fielded some concerns from residents, some of whom expressed discomfort with the idea of grocery shopping on a kiosk.

And according to some older residents in Maywood, the old-fashioned shopping experience — replete with screeching carts and long lines — is a long way from stressful; in fact, they said, it’s actually therapeutic.

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For some younger, working professionals, who may have much less time and patience for the supermarket, the idea is much easier to grasp. One who was interviewed last week said the idea of a ‘concierge’ anything makes her perk up at the prospect of such luxe-style treatment. She was open to it, although she admitted that she was still trying to wrap her head around the concept’s details.

So far, EATS has made no offer to purchase the village-owned building. Alcazar said that before his team attempts to deal, they want to make sure there’s sufficient community buy-in — both from residents and village officials.

The latter want to make sure that Alcazar’s team has sufficient capital to buy the building and finance their own operations (unlike the owners of the former Maywood Market, who required a $250,000 loan, which undersigned by the village, just to manage their expenses).

For their part, Alcazar said, the EATS team wants to make sure that village officials understand their social enterprise motive. More than a mere supermarket, EATS would focus not just on profits, but on creating promising career paths, providing healthy food options and stimulating customer traffic for local businesses in areas that have suffered from decades of economic disinvestment, they argue.

In an exhaustive interview last week, Alcazar answered a series of questions about the business and explained why he believes that Maywood could be a pioneer for a grocery store model that could have national appeal. Some of his answers have been paraphrased and condensed.

VFP: I guess one of the major fears that community members may have is that you would essentially be experimenting with Maywood — it would be the site of your first location and all kinds of things could go wrong. What prior experience can you point to in order to ease people’s concerns about the lack of defined track record?

Alcazar: [He mentioned the combined experience of the EATS team, which can be viewed in-depth by clicking here]. Robertino Presta, CEO of Caputo’s Fresh Markets, operates eight fresh market grocery stores in the Chicago area. They’re considered one of the highest quality stores in the area.

We’re going to start out buying through Caputo’s. So, that’s production we already have setup. They’ll be one of our wholesale suppliers. We’ll also be using a lot of local, urban farming whenever possible, which is part of being a social enterprise.

VFP: What about the capital concerns?

Alcazar: If we ever need access to more than what we’re expecting to need, we’ve got access to capital. I just met with five funding agencies at Merchandise Mart [last Tuesday] and we’re their model. There are a lot people who will want to take credit for what we’re going to do. We’re going to have neighborhoods across the United States bidding to get us to come in.

VFP: What advantage would EATS have over conventional grocery stores?

Alcazar: Traditionally, the supermarket industry is a low-profit industry. The average profit margin for supermarkets nationwide is between 1 and 2 percent.

When you consider typical annual inventory shrinkage — which is the difference between the amount of inventory that you should on paper versus what you end up having in actuality (after accounting for customer and vendor theft, and other things) — that profit margin gets even thinner.

[According to a report by the National Retail Federation that was reported on by Forbes in 2015, “Shrinkage, along with administrative errors, cost U.S retailers about 1.4% of their 2014 sales.”]

Why do the supermarkets in [many economically depressed communities] leave? The retail shrinkage from shoplifting, employee theft and vendor theft goes up to over 5 percent in those communities. You can’t make money like that.

We don’t have that problem because we’re basically a warehouse. Whatever product we have that someone would steal is in the warehouse, but we’ll still employ ex-offenders because we’d be protected. Everything in the warehouse is filmed, there’s plenty of surveillance and we don’t accept cash. There’s no checkout. You’d simply input your debit, credit card or LINK card and start spending.

VFP: Where will you get the technology?

Alcazar: The technology already exists. There’s nothing we’d be doing that’s new. We’re just assembling what’s already available and putting it into a retail environment. So, that gives us more advantages.

For instance, by not having people fondle the food, we’re throwing away 25 percent less of it. We also have lower operating costs because we won’t need any cashiers.

Marriano’s might have 400 employees to put out the same amount of sales we put out with 170 employees. Their store has a lot of duplication (employees running down aisles, display product that gets damaged and thrown away, open refrigerators, cold aisles, high utility costs, etc.). We don’t have any of that. Our customer area will be tiny. Marianno’s has to make up for that loss with higher prices.

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VFP: You say, on the one hand, that you’ll be able to provide all these great job opportunities for ex-offenders in low-income areas, but on the other hand, you’re arguing that your labor costs are going to be very low compared to traditional grocery stores. How do you square the two?

Alcazar: To be honest, we’re going to have a hard time trying to keep employees because the industry I’m in, which is supply chain management, doesn’t have enough workers. We have more people retiring than coming in. But supply chain is the future of the country and the world. We don’t have a lot of low-paying, crappy jobs. Those are becoming obsolete.

When these guys get trained, they’ll probably quit and go on to better careers and better jobs, so we’re going to be a job incubator that will keep hiring locally all of the time. Every time someone leaves, they’ll leave better trained, with greater experience and they’ll be able to buy homes in the community.

VFP: Can you name some of the specific skills that you’ll train people for?

Alcazar: Marketing jobs, customer service, information technology, radio frequency access points, scanning all of the product — all of these things go along with the supply chain. We’ll need people to be able to calculate minimums and maximums, and reevaluate the amount of inventory for each item.

These skills teach you how to be cost-effective and how to run your own business. We’ll have an apprentice level, an expert level and a master level, with everybody able to work up to higher levels. We’ll need as many master levels as possible, so they can train people at the lower levels.

VFP: You talked about EATS being a concierge service. Have you talked with any local institutions about being a food supplier?

Alcazar: We will have one route that does drop-off deliveries daily. This came about after we met with the head of Loyola University Medical Center and explained the process. Loyola said they would be willing to setup a drop-off point at the medical center and staff the distribution. We’d also do drop-offs to Madden, Hines, Triton, Dominican, Concordia and even some of the senior centers in the area. VFP

Alcazar will be meeting with the Maywood Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Commission tonight, Thursday, Feb. 9, 6 p.m., at 125 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood. Anyone who would like to learn more about EATS or field questions, comments or concerns directly to Alcazar may attend this meeting. To download the EATS informational flyer, click here.

A Brief Conversation with Broadview Mayoral Candidate Princess Dempsey

dempseyWednesday, January 4, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Last month, I had a phone conversation with Princess Dempsey, who recently announced her intentions to run for Mayor of Broadview in the upcoming April 4 election.

Dempsey is running as an independent for Mayor of Broadview in a field that, as of Dec. 31, included Maxine Johnson, Judy Brown-Marino, Katrina Thompson, Vernon Terry and Thomas Hood.

Dempsey, who is currently president of the Lindop District 92 school board, also ran as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, 7th District, in 2012 — a race that was ultimately won by incumbent Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

In our brief conversation, Dempsey — an entrepreneur who has started several businesses, including a staffing agency — framed her candidacy in opposition to the two terms of the outgoing Broadview mayor, Sherman Jones, who will run for a trustee seat.

A referendum that was on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot, and which passed with 65 percent of the vote, effectively bans Jones from seeking a third term. The referendum states that “no person shall be eligible to seek election to or hold the office of Village President where that person has been previously elected to the office of Village President of the Village of Broadview for two (2) consecutive full four (4) year terms.”

First, what are your thoughts on the referendum that recently passed? Did you play a part in getting that on the ballot?

No, I had nothing to do with the referendum.

What’s your vision for Broadview?

First, I’m running as an independent because I believe that the village wants people to think outside the box. I believe Broadview deserves better. I think we need economic development.

You can see that there’s no growth in Broadview. Our stores have been closing; once we open up one, we close another. We don’t have a housing authority. We have the senior community right now that has to go to the park district, but where is the community engagement for the seniors?

If the mayor was doing a good job, then the people wouldn’t have voted him out. I want to go in there and look at our budget. I think we’re overspending. I want to look at how they’re spending our TIF [Tax Increment Financing] dollars.

Broadview was built on small business and we need to bring that back. We have no community outreach and we don’t do any events for our residents. We need to bring that back, too. If I’m elected, I’ll host the first rib fest in Broadview, so that we engage and reach out to the community.

On her personal and professional background

I’ve grown up here. I’m from Proviso Township. I went to Proviso West. I have a vested interest.

I have an MBA from Chicago State University and have been a business owner since 1990, in addition to being an HR director for 17 years. I was also a human service commissioner when I lived in Downers Grove. I helped find them money.

I know how business works and in order to know that, you have to have owned and operated a business. Broadview can be a community of success and light, not like Harvey. Right now, Broadview is going into a Harvey mode. VFP 

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Get to Know Martin Casey, Who Wants to Bring a Beauty Products Manufacturing Facility to Maywood

Martin Casey.jpgWednesday, December 28, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 10:23 p.m. 

During a Dec. 16 community meeting hosted by Village Free Press at the Maywood Public Library, I spoke with Martin F. Casey, (pictured left) the grandson of the famous black entrepreneur S.B. Fuller, (pictured below).

Fuller, who died in 1988 at 83 years old, started the famous Fuller Products Company. According to his New York Times obituary, Fuller started the company with $25, “buying soap and then selling it door to door. He later used these sales techniques to offer 30 items of a little-known line of cosmetics. His business grew and he began producing his own cosmetics and allied products, which became nationally known.”

By 1963, the Times noted, Fuller’s company had grown to “more than 3,000 sales representatives in 38 states and Mr. Fuller controlled eight other corporations, including a department store in Chicago, a real estate trust in New York, farming and cattle interests and the Courier chain of newspapers serving black audiences in Chicago, New York, Detroit and Pittsburgh.”

Casey, who owns a construction company, car wash and Dudley Products distributorship, among other businesses, said that he’s looking to relaunch the Fuller Product brand and is considering setting up a manufacturing facility somewhere in Maywood.

So far, his plans are very preliminary. In a brief interview earlier this month, Casey, who said that he’s been scouting some potential locations, explained why Maywood is on his radar. He also talked about Aldi’s decision, made earlier this month, to close its Maywood location.

So, why Maywood?

The reason I want to bring the manufacturing here is because we need products now. We have a full line of natural products, as well as the original Fuller products, that we’re going to bring  back. The Maywood manufacturing facility would make the natural line products.

I have a friend, Sy Bounds, who lives out here and he told me that there’s a lot of opportunity in Maywood. Where there is plight, there’s always opportunity. And with Aldi moving, that means there’s an even bigger opportunity, because you’re going to get other companies moving here, too.

But you have to give businesses incentives, for instance by offering them tax breaks and gas breaks. Some of this is subsidized by the community, but in the long run, how many people can you employ in an up-and-coming manufacturing company? Thousands. I’m not saying I’m going to start with that figure, but it’s a gradual push upward. I’d need the support of the community to purchase the products, which are geared toward black consumers.

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On the Fuller Company’s philosophy

We educate people. We have different organizations within this organization that educate young people in business and entrepreneurship. You have to have a mindset and it’s a mindset that Fuller taught.

Have you approached the Maywood Board of Trustees or village officials about your plans?

I don’t have to ask anyone’s permissions. If I do the manufacturing, I may have to come to them for zoning purposes. But, ultimately, either I decide to pay the taxes or I don’t. I could also say, ‘The taxes are too high and how are you willing to help me?’

I know a lot of businesses have moved out of here because of the taxes. The funeral home on Madison [Corbin Colonia], that one is closed because they were charging the guy more than 100,000 of taxes. The square footage isn’t even worth that. The tax for the square footage is just too much.

What kind of community support are you looking for ahead of deciding whether or not you’ll come to Maywood?

I’ll need the support of the community as a whole. People need to signal that they’ll support the company if, and when, we do get here; that they’ll support us with their dollars. Your dollar will be staying in the community.

I’m renting a home in Bellwood right now and my girlfriend owns a beauty salon there. Why can’t we have the salon in Maywood? The question is are people going to support it. That’s the thing.

Aldi isn’t moving because they don’t like Maywood, but because they can’t make any money here. The purpose of business is to make money. If you don’t make money, you can’t stay open and you cannot employ people.

Can you talk a bit more about the Aldi?

The community could’ve franchised Aldi. It could’ve been bought by the people who live here. With every dollar you have and can muster, you could’ve bought that franchise if that’s what they wanted to do.

They’re going to sale that building, but the problem is that it hasn’t sat long enough. The longer a building sits, the more valuable it is to the buyer, because that means it’s been blighted and you can get more incentives. Right now, the building probably costs too much.

The bottom-line is that we need to have the people who live in the community owning their own businesses, so the money won’t leave out of the community. If you own real estate and property in a neighborhood, but you don’t live there, then you’re taking money out of a community that needs it. VFP

Photo of Fuller: Mr. S.B. Fuller, president of the Fuller Products Corporation and chairman of the Negro Chamber of Commerce addressing a meeting of the forum in Chicago, Illinois at the Ida B. Wells Housing Project. | Caption by Wikipedia || Jack Delano/Library of Congress 

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A Brief Conversation with Broadview Mayoral Candidate Katrina Thompson

aKatrina Thompson.jpgWednesday, December 14, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 12/15/16

Last week, I had a phone conversation with Katrina Thompson, who recently announced her intentions to run for Mayor of Broadview in the April 4, 2017 election.

Thompson, 46, is running atop the Broadview People’s Party slate, which includes sitting Broadview trustee Kevin McGrier as its candidate for clerk and Verina Horn, former trustee Judy Abraham and current mayor Sherman Jones as its trustee candidates.

Thompson said her candidacy is the direct result of a binding referendum — which passed on Nov. 8 with 65 percent of the vote — that stated that “no person shall be eligible to seek election to or hold the office of Village President where that person has been previously elected to the office of Village President of the Village of Broadview for two (2) consecutive full four (4) year terms.”

The referendum, which effectively bans Jones for running for a third term next year, appeared on the ballot despite numerous attempts by the mayor’s supporters to persuade the courts to remove it. They argued that the measure was largely a personal attack on Jones by his opponents on the board. That it did not apply to any trustee positions, they said, bolstered their claims.

In our conversation, Thompson — a former Broadview Park District executive director, current library and trustee and the executive director of the West Humboldt Park Development Council — framed her candidacy largely as an effort to build on what she considers the achievements of Jones’s two terms.

First, what are your thoughts on the referendum that recently passed?

I think it got on ballot because there was no other way [for Jones’s opponents] to beat him with his record. He’s done some amazing things in Broadview under his leadership.

For instance, he turned our budget around and has hired more police and firemen. He has enhanced our public works department. Currently, he’s working on developing our Roosevelt Road corridor and establishing a communications policy for the entire village.

What’s your vision for Broadview?

Part of my vision is having an all-inclusive relationship with our residents and business owners, continuing the development of the Roosevelt Rd. corridor and implementing that communications piece so that we have an effective website, a newsletter and monthly meet-and-greets [among other forms of communication outside of our regular board meetings].

On the larger theme of her campaign

We’re doing this for our village. We want to save Broadview and make sure that we have wholesome and charismatic leadership that gives back to the community and that just cares about the people who pay property taxes in our village. We’re so divided right now. VFP

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Judy Abraham as a sitting village trustee. VFP regrets the error. 

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Almost A Year At The Helm, D89 Supt. David Negron Looks Back on Progress

David Negron.jpgTuesday, June 7, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

David Negron — appointed by the District 89 school board to succeed Michael Robey as superintendent last May and having started in the position last July — isn’t so new that he can’t list off some strides he believes the district has made since he’s taken the helm.

“As I said [when he was first hired], one of my goals is to be one of the top-performing districts in Illinois,” Negron said in an interview last Saturday. “That’s still my goal.”

Negron said his main focuses over the last year had been improving the district’s communications process, enhancing the curriculum and establishing a more visible administrative presence in the district’s school buildings.

“One of my goals when I first started was to be visible, so I’ve been to every single school on a regular basis,” he said. “Any teacher or administrator will say, ‘The superintendent is here a lot.’ Some may like it more than others, but when I’m in those buildings it’s a positive experience.”

With respect to communications, Negron lauded what he said was a “first-ever communications plan.” That plan included the administration of three separate communications surveys for community, parents and “internal stakeholders” (teachers, administrators, board members, etc.).

“Based on the results of the surveys, we’re developing some goals and a plan that we’ll share with the board in the next few weeks,” Negron said, adding that between 800 and 900 people responded to the three surveys. He said a final communications report will be presented to the public in the coming months.

Negron also noted that the district would rollout a brand new mobile-friendly website, which he said should launch on Aug. 1.

“We’re still working out some bugs, and some bells and whistles, but I think we’ll be right on the money within a week or two of the launch date,” he said.

Negron also touted the recent introduction of new district-wide curriculum measures, which the school board approved within the last year. The new system — which includes new textbooks and teaching standards, among other features — replaced a system that was over 10 years old, he said. The new learning standards were introduced to 6th through 8th grade students this academic year, with kindergarten through 5th grade students set to receive them in the fall.

Along with the new standards, Negron said, will come increased and enhanced professional development opportunities for teachers and staff members. The district, he noted, will also continue partnerships with outside entities, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago and the West 40 cooperative, to supplement traditional instruction in science and math.

“The most important thing is our curriculum and academic rigor,” Negron said. “We’ve been preaching this year about making data-driven decisions, so we’ll have a data retreat with teachers and administrators, and will delve into the data.”

Negron also addressed the state’s ongoing budget crisis and how the loss of even more state funding might negatively impact the district.

In 2014, according to Illinois State Board of Education data, nearly 60 percent of D89’s revenue came from state funding. That year, the district spent around $4,800 per pupil on instructional spending — around 55 percent less than the state average of roughly $7,400.

“We still haven’t gotten all the money owed to us by the state,” Negron said. “For the past six years, we haven’t received 100 percent of our budgets. We’d been getting a prorated amount, so the state would pay out a portion of the money it has promised. For instance, last year, the state paid out 87 percent of the money it said it would give us.”

Negron expressed support for a school funding bill introduced by state Sen. Sen. Andy Manar (D-48th) and supported by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th) that would allocate funds to school districts based on need and introduce a funding formula that is much simpler, and fairer, than the complex one currently in place.

“I think we’re doing well with what we have,” said Negron, “but it’s about providing services to our students.” VFP

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