Feature image: Wikipedia
A referendum to lower property taxes could possibly be one result of the new law to revamp state aid to education in Illinois.
Feature image: Wikipedia
A referendum to lower property taxes could possibly be one result of the new law to revamp state aid to education in Illinois.
A screenshot of live video feed posted to Facebook by Proviso Together showing the slate’s four candidates getting sworn into office at PMSA on April 27.
Friday, April 28, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Three years after members of the Facebook group “Forest Parkers For Better Schools” met inside of Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park to talk about the direction of Proviso Township High Schools District 209, the group is now solidly steering the ship.
In 2015, the group, informally called the “Brown Cow 20,” fielded Proviso Together, a three-person slate of candidates to run for three open school board seats. All three candidates — longtime incumbent board member Teresa Kelly, Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner — won handily.
Two years later, Proviso Together pulled off another sweep, with all four of its candidates — Amanda Grant, Sam Valtierrez, Della Patterson and Rodney Alexander — winning first terms.
At an April 27 special meeting held inside of the cafeteria at Proviso Math and Science Academy, the four new board members were sworn into office by outgoing board president Theresa McKelvy and Kelly re-assumed the presidency after a unanimous vote.
Grant, who garnered the most votes among the 8-person school board race, was voted vice president while Medina was voted secretary.
In 2016, a year after Kelly had been elected board president, she was ousted from that position when board members McKelvy, Brian Cross, Dan Adams and Kevin McDermott voted to shorten the board president’s tenure from two years to one. McKelvy was then voted Kelly’s successor.
With Kelly again at the helm, the new supermajority is hoping that they can pull off a complete overhaul of a district where, fewer than five years ago, Wagner and Medina were worried about sending their children.
On Thursday, both board members announced that each had one child who would be enrolling at PMSA in the fall. Medina said that when her son received his acceptance letter to PMSA, he called Ned’s son.
“[My son] said, ‘No matter what we do, we’re going to stay together,’” Medina said. “We’re all here together.”
In their remarks, all of the board members stressed unity and togetherness, a constant theme of both the 2015 and 2017 campaigns.
“It is time for Proviso to unite and to be one union,” said new board member Sam Valtierrez, of Melrose Park. “We have to break the curse of disunity that has broken our community. We must get involved and let the fear go. [That’s how we’ll] see the transformation of our wonderful schools.”
“There is a wealth of talented and amazing people here,” said Grant. “We have the resources. We pay about $90 million in taxes each year to Proviso District 209. What we needed all along and have been sorely lacking is a unified board of education that understands that students come first.”
“I pledge to be earnest, hardworking, full-time, available and consistent in discharging these responsibilities and duties,” said Alexander. “And most of all, I pledge to work together [with fellow board members] as a team.”
Some board members emphasized the importance of enhancing equity at the district. The issue was a centerpiece of a burgeoning strategic plan that D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez presented to the public at a meeting at PMSA last week.
“I am fully committed to working with all community stakeholders to ensure that regardless of where your child is enrolled, he or she will have the resources to succeed,” said Patterson.
Patterson added that her focus will be on raising the district’s standard of academic performance, increasing the range and amount of selective courses that are offered and making AP and IB courses more widely available at Proviso East and Proviso West.
Wagner said that he plans on building on the record of accomplishments, particularly in the area of equity, that have been secured during the young tenure of Rodriguez, who was hired roughly a year ago.
“I want to continue working on making our schools a welcoming environment for our kids and parents,” Wagner said, before pointing out a range of measures that have been implemented within the last two years, such as offering more training for security staff at the district and putting in place restorative justice measures at the school a year before the passage of SB 100.
“We were talking about restorative justice a year before SB 100 was passed, which is the law that schools have to do everything they can to keep kids in school rather than just expelling or suspending them,” he said. “We put some good practices in so we’re in really good shape. I want us to build on that, expand on that and create a culture of understanding ad acceptance in our schools so our kids can grow into responsible adults.”
Kelly presented each board member with copies of compasses, “to remind us to measure our progress, because we know that movement does not necessarily mean progress. Each of us as a group has a moral compass that will allow us to know right from wrong, good from bad.”
“We are no longer responsible to the interest of any one person or special group,” Kelly said, “but we are accountable to all of our children and to all of our communities.” VFP
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
For roughly an hour on Saturday, the Quinn Community Center in Maywood hosted the rarest of events — a forum where all eight candidates running for the four open seats on the District 209 school board race showed up.
Sparks flew as soon as the moderator asked the first question, which appeared to have been drawn up by someone in the audience. Did the candidates have children in either District 89 elementary schools (which comprise Maywood, Melrose Park and Bellwood) or the District 209 high schools?
On the campaign trail, the four candidates running on the Proviso Together ticket — challengers Sam Valtierrez of Melrose Park, Arbdella “Della” Patterson of Maywood, Rodney Alexander of Bellwood, and Amanda J. Grant of Westchester — have reinforced the fact that some of their opponents have children who attend private schools.
Sitting board members Brian Cross, Dan Adams and Teresa McKelvy are running for re-election, along with challenger Jacqueline Walton, who noted that her 40-year-old no longer attends school.
“If you’re going to sit on a school board and make decisions for other people’s children, then your children should go to the [district’s] public schools,” said Patterson, who noted that her three adult children all graduated from Proviso Township High Schools. “I would suggest you sit on the board of education where you send your children.”
Proviso First candidates countered that not having a child in the district shouldn’t disqualify them from serving on the board.
“I don’t think I have to have a child attending these schools in order to help the children,” Walton said. “I’ve also helped the children even though I had a business on the side.”
Brian Cross, a sitting board member, said the question “was extremely distasteful.”
“That’s a decision Sandy [his late wife] and I made,” he said. “I’m going to stand by that decision.”
McKelvy said her son’s decision to attend a private high school was his to make, adding that her younger son, who attends Macarthur Middle School in Berkeley, wants to go to Proviso West or Proviso Math and Science Academy.
“When it was time for [her older son] to go to high school, we asked him where he wanted to go,” McKelvy said. “He wanted to be in a different environment. He said to me, ‘Mom, I’ve been in this school district for eight years. I want a change of pace. I want to do it my way and make new friends.’ We have another son who wants to go to West or PMSA, but should he change his mind, then I’ll send him where he wants to go.”
Alexander and Grant said their children, who are currently in elementary school, will be attending Proviso Township high schools in the future. Valtierrez said his children attended District 89 and D209 schools.
Another major focal point of discussion was the state of the district’s finances. When the moderator asked what each candidate would do to keep the district from going bankrupt again, candidates from both parties pushed back against the question’s implication.
“It is fiction that our district is bankrupt and that we are having financial problems,” said McKelvy. “We are not having financial problems. Our budget is balanced and when we vote on the budget, it’s approved by seven board members. It’s on all of us, not just three of us. We have 56 percent of our funds in reserves in our fund balance. That is not what broke school districts do.”
Patterson cautioned against characterizing the district as “bankrupt,” adding that she wasn’t aware that the district’s financial condition had slipped into that state. She did, however, advocate for the district keeping the state-appointed Financial Oversight Panel in place — even though she said she was dissatisfied with what she considered to be political appointments made to that board.
“Sitting board members don’t have authority to remove the FOP,” Patterson said. “The state sent it here. It can stay here for up to 10 years. We’re close to that, if I remember correctly. It’s been eight years. I was one of the people who went down to Springfield to make sure the FOP had the authority to hire and fire the superintendent and business manager. I’ve watched the oversight panel do some things I’m uncomfortable with because they’ve got political appointments [but] I think they need to stay.”
“I like the FOP and wish it were stronger,” said Grant, who criticized what she also characterized as political appointments made to the panel. “We would like to end that. We need an oversight panel [that’s independent and that should be in place] until the district is run in a financially sound and transparent way.”
For some members of the Proviso First committee, the March 18 forum was an opportunity to vent their frustrations with the Proviso Together slate.
“I’m not mad at these people running against me,” said McKelvy. “I don’t know these people, but every time I turn around, they’re attacking our character. They don’t know whether we have concerns for these children or not. All of us have concerns for these children. … For some strangers who I have never met to attack our integrity and accuse us of not caring about our schools is unconscionable. I care very much about our students.”
During an interview earlier this month, the Proviso Together slate vented about their own perceived mistreatment during the campaign, particularly pointing out campaign literature and a robo-call that attempts to connect the Together candidates to Republicans like Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald Trump.
On his Facebook page, Cross shares an email link to a landing page that includes a small puppy beneath the caption, “Dan Proft is up to his old tricks in Proviso, but this time, That dog won’t hunt!!! [sic].”
Below the image, a statement signed by the four Proviso First candidates blasts an article published in the West Cook News, a controversial right-wing media outlet that identifies as a newspaper.
The article, which lacks a reporter’s byline, mentions that McKelvy, Adams and Cross “approved $94.6 million in spending for fiscal year 2015, a $20.1 million increase from 2011,” adding that “the property tax assessment levied by the district on homeowners increased by 69 percent.”
The article mentions no other board members and doesn’t include any context for the reported increase. It also references another media outlet’s investigation revealing that “100 percent of the [D209] school board whose voting history could be identified voted Democrat in the most recent primary elections.”
“This fake news operations is run by Dan Proft through his political action committee, the ‘Liberty Principles Pac,'” writes the Proviso First candidates in the joint statement. “We need your help to stop Governor Rauner’s Cronies from taking over our schools [sic].”
The statement doesn’t explicitly mention the Proviso Together slate or any individual candidates by name.
During the March 8 interview, held at the Forest Park Review offices during the paper’s endorsement process, the Proviso Together candidates swatted away their opponents’ campaign tactics. The Proviso First slate did not respond to the paper’s requests to sit for an interview.
“They feed off of people’s ignorance,” said Valtierrez. “They’ll make something up and send out a $5,000 to $6,000 mailer. We don’t have that kind of money. We have to walk, knock on doors, talk to people. They’ll intimidate you. Intimidation doesn’t work. Why do you want so bad to be on a board of a district you don’t even send your kids to?”
“The three incumbents all have children at private schools and you have people who suddenly emerge when it’s election time,” said Grant. “They don’t even go to their own school’s events. They’re going to do what they do, but at the end of the day, they have to run on their record. They will be held to account.”
During Saturday’s forum, Proviso First candidates insisted that the campaign be about their board performance and not about where their children are educated.
“Just because we don’t have a kid [in the district] doesn’t mean we [don’t want to do what’s best] for the community,” said Adams. “We’re all parents here.” VFP
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || By Tom Holmes
Jesse Rodriguez, the new superintendent of Proviso High School District 209, is confident that, under his leadership, Proviso East High School, along with the entire district, will be transformed.
A big part of his confidence stems from having lived a transformational life. “Until I was 14 years old,” he said, “I lived in extreme poverty with a single mom and a brother and a sister in the small town of Juana Diaz in Puerto Rico. When I was 14, my mother moved our family to a neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was challenged with drugs, gangs and violence. We were poor in Puerto Rico, and we were poor in Milwaukee. I spoke zero English. I was faced with learning a new language and a new culture.”
Two factors, however, prevented his environment from undermining his future. One was his mother, who worked two full-time jobs at $3.82/hour to pay the rent and put food on the table. His mother inculcated strong family values in her three children and modeled an ethic of hard work, particularly in education, which she emphasized as the way to get ahead.
A second factor was an excellent bi-lingual program in the Milwaukee public schools, which allowed Rodriguez to maintain his fluency in Spanish while becoming proficient in English. Those two forces enabled all three children to become professionals as adults.
A series of positions in education in the Milwaukee area; a master’s degree in administration; a PhD with an emphasis on leadership, learning, research and service; and a job as the regional superintendent for southwest Milwaukee public schools gave him the credentials to be hired as the D209 superintendent.
Rodriguez eagerly looks forward to being a transformative leader. He understands that the board and the communities that make up D209 are looking for change, and he also knows that what was successful in Milwaukee probably won’t work in this part of Chicago’s western suburbs. Therefore he is presently doing a lot of listening to stakeholders and staff.
He intends to meet with the residents of every village during the first year of his tenure in town hall-style meetings and “cafes,” the first taking place in Maywood on Sept. 22. One concern he already has following his first round of meetings with officials from the villages in the district is the almost sole focus on what is wrong with the high schools.
He acknowledges that Proviso East has its “challenges.”
“Proviso East has achievement levels,” he said, “that are unacceptable. Scores on assessments are very, very low.” But that is based, he added, more on perceptions of performance by students in the past and not necessarily what is happening right now.
Claudia Medina lives in Forest Park, is a D209 board member, and is impressed with Rodriguez’s leadership.
“Our needs at Proviso for improvement are high,” she said, “and he has impacted and improved school climate, increased student achievement goals, effected more involved stakeholders. He expects more rigorous, targeted instruction in Proviso that will bring our students up to their full potential.”
“I’ve been hearing the negative perceptions,” Rodriguez said, “but the transformation at Proviso East under Dr. [Patrick] Hardy, the school’s principal, suggests otherwise. The first days of this school year have been magical. We invite the community to see the type of work we are doing at Proviso East because it is changing in the right direction.”
Rodriguez brings a confident “we’ll show you” attitude to his work as a transformational leader. A change agent has to, by definition, bring about change, he noted. February 2017 is when he plans to present to the board a strategic plan that maps out in detail just how D209 will move into the future everyone seems to want. He cited the rating by Chicago Magazine of the Proviso Math and Science Academy as the number one high school in the Cook County suburbs as evidence of what can happen.
Ned Wagner, a Forest Park resident and D209 board member, said he can already see a difference at Proviso East High School after just one month of the new superintendent’s leadership.
“Dr. Rodriguez has given Dr. Hardy permission to be great,” he said, “and Hardy is following through with style and gusto.”
Rodriguez said the low scores at Proviso East are due to social as well as academic factors, which he called “realities of public education in an urban setting.” Proviso Township is clearly a more urban context for education than Winnetka, Arlington Heights, Glenview and Palatine, the suburbs with the next four top-ranked schools in Chicago Magazine’s ratings.
He emphasizes “attitude” in determining student achievement. In order to have a great high school, he said, sandwiched between academic and social factors, you must have perseverance and grit.
“Our staff is going to make sure students know they are important,” he said, taking a lesson from his own mother. “We will use our training and our love and compassion for children to make sure they are moving ahead academically.”
A relational approach to students, he said, is more effective than what he called “technical” solutions.
“We recognize that security and safety is a big issue in our high school,” he explained, “and if students are not behaving, there’s a tendency to want to apply technical solutions like bringing in more cameras and more police. What we need to do is address the root cause of the problem. We have cultural problems in this township. What we need to do is create a culture of respect, collaboration and trust.”
Rodriguez combines confidence and optimism with humility.
“I am not a long ranger,” he said. “I’ve always had retired principal and other mentors observing me and telling me the good, the bad and the ugly. Working with others as a team is something required of me to be successful. I’ve never done anything alone.”
Rodriguez’s style has apparently made a positive initial impression on the teachers at Proviso East.
Wagner observed, “The pride and energy at the District Institute Day [for teachers] was absolutely palpable. Teachers were coming up to me and thanking me and the board of education for hiring Rodriguez. His blend of determination, vision, clear communication, efficient organization, and personality make him a gifted leader.”
Medina looked at Rodriguez’s impact from a student’s point of view. She said a neighbor of hers, who is a freshman this year at Proviso East, told her, “Everybody warned me about going to the high school. I don’t know why everybody makes such a big deal about it. Proviso East High School is awesome. I really like it there. It’s nothing like what people told me.”
“That tells me,” said Medina, “the collaborative and transformative vision is being felt by the kids and that is what counts because when kids are happy, real positive change is [the result].” VFP
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || 5/10/16 || EDITORIAL
The school board at Proviso High School District 209 has changed its leadership. Out as board president is Theresa Kelly. In as board president is Teresa McKelvy.
Took a whole lot of disturbing political machinations for the new and narrow board majority to pull off this insider play. Kevin McDermott, the swing vote here, ought to be ashamed of the role he played in this sad game.
The upside though is that after a year of pretty much unqualified success in starting the slow process of turning this failed school district toward the light, the narrow new majority just couldn’t live with its progress, couldn’t avoid embracing the sort of political squabble that has turned the community sharply against it, and, so have now offered absolute clarity to voters on what must be done in school board elections now just 11 months away.
McDermott, McKelvy, Brian Cross and Dan Adams must be decisively turned out of office and replaced with more non-political, community-based, educationally focused board members.
In this silly and unnecessary battle to strip Kelly of her leadership post half-way through her agreed upon term, these four have made crystal clear where their interests and allegiances rest. And it is not with the thousands of young people whose futures have been trampled and ignored by this perpetually failed school board. It is not with taxpayers from nine decent towns whose hard-earned dollars have been taken from them without respect or a determination to right the political and educational malfeasance that has been perpetrated on this district.
This was petty but hardball politics. And its practitioners must be made to pay at the ballot box next April.
As we have said previously, Ms. Kelly was an imperfect board president. Sincere though and focused on students and teachers and the community. Ham-handedly changing board policy in mid-stream to cut the term of a sitting president in half was a ludicrous response to personal disagreements over matters not of educational substance but of alleged slights.
Now is the time for the 209 Together movement to begin its search for a slate of four vital candidates for next April so that this sad district can once and for all be rid of the politics and self-dealing.
Our thanks to the new board majority for so boldly defining the divide between this district’s pathetic political past and its prospects for a much better future.
The campaign for the possibilities of District 209 starts right now. VFP
The views and opinions expressed in this Forest Park Review editorial are those of that publication and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.
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