Anyone who works in the Proviso Township high school district should know that the schools have an image problem. Academic performance is generally terrible. Finances are in shambles. And morale continues to be decimated by political meddling that fuels a cycle of failures. So the question is, what does anyone do about it?
If you’re a parent, you have a few options.
You can throw your child into the district, cross your fingers and hope they swim like hell against the tide. You can try enrolling them in the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, a magnet school that arguably hosts a more engaged student body but is still subject to the whims and follies of a reckless school board. Or, like many in Forest Park, you pay tuition to a private school or move to another district just in time to escape “the high school problem.”
District administrators and school board members also have choices. But the one they seem to like most has little substance: Spin.
Having a good relationship with the public – especially when your salaries depend on it – is important, and we can’t fault District 209 for wanting to improve theirs. There are successes to be celebrated, inquiries to be answered and bridges to build. But much of those responsibilities rest with the public officials and can’t be passed along to a mouthpiece. Distance between the public and its employees does not create trust.
Administrators are in the process of inking a new contract with a public relations consultant. That vendor, TaQuoya Kennedy, has shown herself to be accessible and responsive. In other words, she’s everything that her bosses are not. The newly installed superintendent, Nettie Collins-Hart, for example, said recently that she will not speak with reporters and that Kennedy is to serve as the conduit for any communication. Careful readers will notice, too, that school board President Chris Welch doesn’t often answer questions from the public and the assistant superintendent, Nikita Johnson, can only be spotted at monthly board meetings.
Newspaper reporters and editors generally understand that they’re not always popular and, occasionally, people would rather not take our calls. That’s fine. But it shouldn’t become an institutional habit, especially when it cheats parents and taxpayers.
A lament that we’ve heard come out of District 209 is that the media too often focuses on the negative. In their case that’s likely true, and we’ll take our lumps for it. Having a public relations office ensures that more positive news will be coming out of the district, and that’s not a bad thing. But when classes are too crowded and money is being doled out for lawsuits that have nothing to do with education, those responsible must also be accountable. Kennedy, or whoever else might land that job, is not a shield or a sacrificial lamb. If administrators and board members find they are uncomfortable answering questions about the decisions they’re making, perhaps they need to make better decisions.