After several meetings since the July firing of Superintendent Gregory Jackson were dominated by squabbling over controversial hires and promotions, the District 209 Board of Education spent Monday evening discussing what some might see as an unusual topic: education.
The conversation was led by Deputy Superintendent Kelvin Gilchrist, who proposed several educational programs for the board to consider. First, he announced an agreement between the district and Lewis University in Romeoville which will allow students to attain credit hours in math and science at the high school level to be transferred to the university.
“Some of our students don’t see beyond high school…we wanted to get them in a college environment,” said Gilchrist.
The program, he said, will enhance the students’ educational opportunities while also helping to combat the national shortage of students dedicated to careers in the sciences.
Gilchrist also discussed his proposal for a district wide testing program designed to ensure that students take standardized testing more seriously.
According to Gilchrist’s proposal, all students would need to take the Terra Nova exams in order to be admitted to district’s schools. Though all of the district’s feeder schools are supposed to administer the test to 8th graders for placement purposes, Gilchrist said many enter high school never having taken the test.
The proposal would call for all students to retake the test at the end of each year. They would not be permitted to advance to the next classification unless their test score had improved from last time.
Gilchrist said that the consequences would strictly be a matter of classification, as students would still be able to take classes at the next grade level.
He said he hoped the urge to avoid embarrassment by being classified a grade below their peers would implore students to take their standardized tests more seriously.
Though the idea was well received, board members told Gilchrist that effort was needed in other areas as well in order to increase academic performance.
“We’re getting kids in high school reading at 3rd and 4th grade levels,” said Board President Chris Welch. “Are we doing this too late?”
Welch urged Gilchrist to also work with feeder schools to ensure that students entered high school prepared.
Board member Charles Flowers pointed out that student progress is impossible without strong teaching, and suggested that teachers also be subject to regular assessments.
“What we need to compliment (the testing) is a staff development plan,” he said.
Maywood resident and district activist Lucille Redmond agreed with Flowers, pointing out that Proviso East and West continue to hire inexperienced teachers while the district’s seasoned educators end up at the newly opened Math and Science Academy.
Twenty of the 53 teachers hired by the school district in August had no previous teaching experience.
Finally, Gilchrist proposed that the district crack down on students who do not live in Proviso Township but attend District 209 schools without paying tuition.
He said that students had been taking advantage of the district’s leniency on these matters, creating an unfair burden for Proviso taxpayers who are paying to educate students from outside the district.
Gilchrist gave a list of documents that he recommended parents be obligated to provide for their students to be admitted including a residency affirmation letter and proof of payment of a real estate tax bill for homeowners and a residency affirmation letter and valid lease for renters.
“If you can’t prove you live here, you can’t go to school here,” he said.
Welch had some concerns about this proposal as well, stating that Proviso has a large Hispanic population which includes students who are undocumented but living with relatives in the township.
Welch said that though his concerns were not resolved Monday night, he expected Gilchrist to consider possible changes to the proposal before the board votes on it in the coming months.
Still, the board was unable to completely refrain from its usual subject matter, as two custodial hires came under fire. Board member Theresa Kelly asked why Darwin Duncan and Perry Walter were being hired from the outside as electricians at Proviso West and East when applicants with 10 years experience with the district had applied.
Chief Education Officer Robert Libka said he had followed the advice of Director of Facilities Jose Santiago, who many have said got his own job due to his extensive work for Welch’s reelection campaign earlier this year.