Politics seems to be the order of the day in Proviso District 209″the type of politics that entails suing and counter-suing, allegations of misconduct and political scandals.  The kind of politics that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when you consider we are dealing with our children’s future here; a future that looks altogether bleak with falling test scores, the possibility of a state takeover of the district, truancy problems and low parent involvement.

This is why Gwendolyn Crayton came as such a surprise to us and why we strongly support her candidacy to this school board.

Crayton is not running with a slate; she doesn’t have a political agenda; she has a real, attainable goal for the district and actual experience to back it up.  Best of all she is dedicated and her presence is like a breath of fresh air in this race.

Crayton has pledged herself to creating a legacy of learning: connecting students, families, communities and resources to help improve student achievement and quality of life in Proviso.

She has a bachelors, masters and doctorate degree in education.  She has also worked in Elgin’s District U46, is a certified principal and superintendent and now works with CONNECTS”Consulting for Excellence in Education. Basically, this is her life.

Best of all, she has a plan.  Crayton wants to work with the schools to create an environment in which students can begin to take personal responsibility for their own learning.  To achieve this she wants to go into the homes and form meaningful partnerships with parents, make the schools more inviting to parents and teach the parents the skills they need to partner in their children’s education.  She also wants to reform the environment at the schools, partnering with other districts and learning what works there to help increase morale and accountability on the part of the students, teachers and administrators.

She also promises to begin an individual assessment of habitual truants to find out what exactly is keeping them from attending school. On the other hand, she said she would work to create a perfect attendance program to reward students, offering carrots and not just sticks to students at Proviso.

A final piece of her plan is to work with the feeder schools, finding out what has worked for them and what is not working to try and prevent children from arriving at Proviso with poor or underachieving reading skills.

   Crayton wants to establish partnerships not only with feeder school districts but with businesses, churches and local governments. Most impressive is that, in her effort to create these partnerships she has already met with five of the district’s mayors, has attended feeder school board meetings, church meetings and has contacted and met with at least one local chamber of commerce.

   For Crayton it is about attendance (parental, community and institutional), attitude (creating the proper environment in the schools) and academics (creating data driven assessments of the curriculums and new instructional strategies).

   It would be easy to say we endorse her because she is the only Forest Park candidate: but that would be selling her short; in her case, it is just the icing on the cake.

Like Crayton, Charles Flowers, has a history of devotion to education, an impressive grasp of the problems facing our nation’s schools and of this particular district’s problems.

Flowers also has past board experience, serving as president of School District 89, which should help him hit the ground running.

Flowers demonstrated he has the character to make tough decisions and the desire to change the direction of this district.  He has a bachelors in secondary education from Concordia University, a masters in special education from Chicago State, and a doctorate degree in education from Roosevelt University.

He also has a clear, no-nonsense vision for this district, demanding fiscal responsibility, through the creation of a financial audit system; board member accountability, staff development, and an academic audit to better determine the needs of our

Flowers is pragmatic in his approach to education, demonstrated by his reliance on hard data in making decisions.

He has pledged to stop the board from using backdoor referendum to obtain money and to address the high teacher turnover rates at Proviso.

Like Crayton, he wants to institute a tracking system for students in trouble, to see how their progress measures up from the moment they enter Proviso, to the time they leave.  To him, if a student enters reading at a third grade level and exits reading at a seventh grade level, that is progress.

Flowers is loosely associated with a slate, running under an ‘Integrity’ slogan.  One of his slate-mates, Katherine Ryan also caught our eye and our endorsement.

Like Flowers, she wants to eliminate backdoor referendums, but what impressed us the most about this prosecutor, with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, is her straight-forward, concise, no-nonsense personality.

Ryan is not afraid to rock the boat”or to get sued.

She is also not afraid to call out the current board in their decision to extend the current superintendent’s contract and offer him a raise, even when the district seems to be doing worse, not better.

Ryan is methodical in her approach to problem solving.  She plans to institute a list of attainable short-term goals that all build toward the long-term goals of increasing student achievement, rebuilding the district, and avoiding a takeover.

The best thing about Ryan, however is that she is a good balance to our most controversial pick, Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

While it is true that Welch is at the center of a lot of the politics and bad press surrounding this district, there is also an
argument to be made for balance and

We agree with Welch that the programs he has instituted as board president should at least have the opportunity to demonstrate they work, before they are further evaluated.

Consider this Welch’s last chance at bat, with the bases loaded, two strikes, a failing team manager and the entire game on the line.

All things considered, we think he deserves the chance to pull it off”he has good ideas after all”but only if he can learn to leave politics aside and prove he cares more about the students than the spotlight.

His work instituting mandatory evening school for unexcused absences, has helped raise daily attendance at Proviso by 14 percentage points; the extra semester of reading is crucial in a district where students are not reading at adequate levels; and his ‘bring parents to school day’ initiative shows he is looking in the right direction and has a grasp of the problems this district is facing.

We sincerely hope Welch will follow through on his pledge to stop rewarding poor performance and demand greater accountability.  We also hope he can learn that only through transparency and open government can he earn the respect he desires.

He views his position as that of a steward, making tough decisions on behalf of the community. Remember, Mr. Welch, a steward serves the king and in a democracy, the people are the king.

The other candidates in the race also had interesting ideas and views. Guillermina “Tina” Alcaraz is the only Hispanic in the race and is genuinely committed to serving this community by being their voice. Tom Dunn brings an impressive financial background to the table. Reatha “Sue” Henry is committed to reading programs and to increasing parental participation. Kenneth Leggins has an impressive background and interesting ideas in social services.  Arbadella “Della” Patterson’s connection with the Proviso students (she works in the district) would bring an interesting and passionate voice to the board.  However we feel that Ryan, Welch, Crayton and Flowers have the best grasp of the global problem and have the best chance at turning this district around.

Daniel Adams, John Perryman and Tucker Ramos did not come for interviews, thus we cannot consider endorsing them.