It was almost too close to call on April 5 when the results began coming in. In fact, it was so close the last of the four open seats on Proviso Township District 209’s school board wasn’t finalized, and congratulations weren’t given, until April 6.
The last man standing the next day was Dr. Charles Flowers, the only non-Students First Party member elected to the board.
Also elected that day was Reatha “Sue” Henry, who joins her reelected slatemates Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Daniel J. Adams on the Students First-dominated board.
The win for the fourth seat was bittersweet, as Flowers narrowly defeated one of his closest allies, Katherine Ryan, and Welch lost Guillermina “Tina” Alcaraz, his last slatemate.
“I wish I could have brought along with me other individuals who share my philosophy,” Flowers said. “As long as we have an understanding when we sit down that the decisions we are making are to impact student achievement and learning, we’ll be just fine. It is when we go outside and do things that have nothing to do with children [that we run into trouble].”
A vote of confidence
For party leader Welch, however, the vote was a resounding and positive referendum on his term as president.
“My party has had the majority on the board for the last four years,” he said, following last week’s win. “We get to continue as majority, and I am real pleased, real happy. I take the results as a resounding vote of confidence for what we have been doing these last four years. It was a referendum on the board.”
For Flowers, who garnered 10.7 percent of the vote in the township, the upcoming years will be an uphill battle filled with lots of challenges.
“I am not there to do anything else but make sure students are getting a quality education,” he said. “I think we have the address the No Child Left Behind Act and how it is affecting multiple numbers of students at Proviso East and West. We need to follow that mandate and we are on a course for state takeover, that to me is critical.”
Welch, however, dismissed notions of an impending state takeover as campaign rhetoric.
“The rhetoric that Proviso is close to takeover, it was campaign rhetoric,” he said. “Over 50 percent of the schools in state of Illinois have received a letter from state board saying they are in need of approval. There are a number of districts in the state that are a lot worse off than Proviso. If the state board was to come in and start taking over, we are not going to be one, two or three on their list.”
He added that the schools are on the watch list but said that the board has put in place a school improvement plan and that a pair of administrators have been working hard to try to improve the schools and to get them off the list.
“We are tightening our belts and rolling up our sleeves and getting work,” he said.
Flowers is not so optimistic.
“Proviso E and W only have a couple of years to get their act together,” he said. “The accountability system and the consequences for schools that do not make yearly progress are set so that after the fifth year, [the consequence is] removing the board of education and the central office and having the state take over the schools.”
Flowers explained that Proviso East is in year three of the 5-year timeline, while Proviso West is in its second year.
“What happens along the line is the restructuring team from the Illinois Board of Education comes in to put together a plan for the school that will be governed by the state”that happens in year four.”
For Welch, the root of this problem is not at Proviso; it is in the feeder schools.
“When you have 75 percent of kids coming in reading at third, fourth or fifth grade levels, that is a serious part of the problem,” he said. “We are going to be working hard to address that issue [through] a superintendent advisory council.”
Magnet school questions
Flowers said he is also concerned with the new Math and Science Academy.
“What is the written curriculum? What model or program are we following? Is it research based? There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “I have never worked in a situation in which it did not work from the inside out. Building a curriculum comes before building a building. Something is wrong with that whole concept. Where is the training? Where are the teachers?”
He also said he is concerned about the emphasis being put on the academy, in light of the failing scores at the high schools.
“I have said this often enough: When you have the majority of students in deficit mode, where do you think the money and effort needs to be placed at? If a kid had a hangnail, and another had a broken leg, which would you treat first? What is more important, meeting the NCLB mandate or trying to figure out how we are going to build a building that will occupy 134 students?” he asked.
Flowers said he will not be afraid to speak his mind or disagree with the rest of the board members.
“I got broad shoulders. The position I have decided to take is what is best for all students,” he said. “But surely when you have students suffering terribly [because of failing scores], I think that deserves immediate action.”