Proviso High School District 209 Deputy Superintendent Kelvin Gilchrist has been placed on administrative leave and ordered to remain at his residence within reach of his home telephone during working hours until further notice.
“Administrative leave means you won’t be in your office, yet in this case he’s still being paid so he was instructed to be available,” said Dist. 209 Chief Education Officer Robert Libka. Libka said that he had consulted the school district’s attorneys regarding the decision.
Notice of the suspension was sent to Gilchrist, as well as the members of the board of education, on Jan. 3, according to board member Theresa Kelly. Reasons cited include failure to address the district’s poor test scores, ineffective evaluation of the district’s special education program, and failure to correct false statements made concerning the district’s reimbursement policy.
Gilchrist was scheduled to retire at the end of the current school year, on June 30. He served as assistant superintendent under former superintendent Greg Jackson for five years before his title was changed to deputy superintendent following Jackson’s firing in August.
Gilchrist was informed by a letter from Libka that all projects and activities he was working on at the time of his suspension would be cancelled, and that new locks had been installed in his office. He will be allowed to enter Proviso property to retrieve his belongings only in increments of one hour, and only while directly monitored by Libka, according to Kelly.
“I’ve been here for six months now, and have had some time to make some assessments, and some changes must be made,” said Libka. “I felt it was better to do it now than wait until the end of the year.” Libka said that Gilchrist’s duties would now be performed by Superintendent Phylistine Murphy.
Gilchrist has been criticized in recent months by board President Chris Welch following presentations given during board meetings. In November, Welch apologized on behalf of the district for statements made by Gilchrist at a previous board meeting regarding the experience, or lack thereof, of Proviso teachers.
In December, Welch became visibly agitated during Gilchrist’s presentation to the board regarding the district’s recently released standardized test scores, screaming that “Excuses are the tool of the incompetent!” after Gilchrist mentioned lackluster middle schools in the district as a cause of the poor scores.
Welch’s critics, however, feel that these outbursts were merely pre-planned political theater to set the stage for Gilchrist’s suspension and eventual firing, pointing out that Welch has himself blamed poor test scores on the middle schools at recent meetings and during his last campaign for board president.
“This was done to make Chris Welch look like an education leader while he’s running for state rep,” said Kelly, who said that she did not always agree with Gilchrist, but described him as a “workaholic” who was “doing the right thing for the kids.”
“(Gilchrist) has been here long enough that he is one of the people who can connect the dots on that $40 million building and that $6 million that was supposed to go to the other schools,” she added, referencing the construction of the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, which came in about $6 million over budget.
That extra money from the bond issue that funded the construction of the school had been intended to be spent on improvements to Proviso East and West. Welch has blamed the overspending on fired Superintendent Greg Jackson.
Opposition members of the board of education, including Kelly and Gary Marine, said that they were not consulted before the decision was made to suspend Gilchrist. Marine questioned why Gilchrist was singled out for test scores, which he said are a joint responsibility of several administrators. Marine also questioned why Orland Hills Mayor Kyle Hastings, who was promoted to director of auxiliary programs in July, was not held responsible for the special ed program.
Flowers said that the special ed program’s woes are largely due to the recent hiring of special ed coordinator Dianna Thomas, who he said lacked credentials and was hired because of her close friendship with Proviso West Principal Alexis Wallace, who is also Welch’s godmother.
Libka declined to comment on the reasons for the suspension, but said that the decision to suspend Gilchrist was made independent of any board of education members, and that all board members were notified at the same time. Welch, who is currently running against Karen Yarbrough in the Democratic primaries for 7th District State Representative, has not returned calls asking for comment.
The move continues an overhaul of Proviso’s top administration which began with Jackson’s firing in July. At the time, Libka was made superintendent while Murphy, a Bellwood trustee, was hired as interim assistant superintendent for operations and technology. The following month, after Cook County Regional Superintendent Robert Ingraffia objected to Libka’s lack of certification to serve as superintendent, the job of Chief Education Officer was created for Libka while Murphy was made superintendent, though both said they would continue performing the same duties despite the change in title.
Before arriving at Proviso, Gilchrist, who did not return calls for comment, was the chairman of applied sciences and technology at Evanston Township High School.