District 209 introduced the three winners of the April 5 election at a special meeting on April 28, at which two former members bid their seats farewell.
Readith Ester and Francine Harrell joined reelected veteran Theresa Kelly on the seven-member school board that Robin Foreman and Bob Cox departed. In a conversation with the Forest Park Review, Cox likened the board to the “wild, wild west.”
Cox said “cracking the code on superintendent-board relations” was one of the district’s biggest victories since his and Foreman’s arrival. Cox noted that, since 2005, four different superintendents helmed the board of education – the most recent being Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart. Because of the constantly changing leadership, Cox said “there was a lot of friction” at the beginning of his term.
“There are studies that say if you have a dysfunctional board, you can’t move forward,” he said. “But I think we made a turning point at least 20 months ago, if not 24 months ago, that for once we’re going to try and work together.”
However, negative public perception remains a problem, according to both Cox and Foreman. Cox said he talked to “less than ten people in the whole four years” about actual policy issues – the majority of comments, he said, reflected people’s “fears and misconceptions.”
“The people who call me are usually ones whose kids got expelled from a private high school and were worried about sending them to the public high schools,” said Cox. “There are even folks who have used Proviso high schools as a kind of tool, telling their kids ‘If you don’t do well in school, I’m going to send you to Proviso.'”
Foreman also witnessed public distrust of the district and said: “There are always people who’ll have their misconceptions. I’d like the public to come out, speak for themselves, and see what’s going on.”
Leaving the school board was not without regrets for Foreman, who was defeated in her bid for reelection. Furthermore, the recent release of all three of the district’s principals remains a sore spot.
“I hope that this new board will reconsider and put them back on,” said Foreman. “These principals love this school district, and they love the children. You could find [former Proviso West Principal] Alexis Wallace and them sometimes at seven, eight o’clock at night trying to help the children.”
Board President Chris Welch sees the release of the principals and the introduction of some “new blood” on the school board as a way to “set the stage for some vast improvement in student achievement over the next couple of years.”
“Ms. Harrell brings a wealth of human resources knowledge, and Ms. Ester brings a wealth of community experience,” Welch said. “I think we’ve made significant progress over the last three years, but there’s more to be done.”
Bringing in a new superintendent, balancing the budget, and establishing a new bussing program rank among the biggest hurdles the district overcame in the past four years, Welch said.
Their school-board days might be over, but neither Foreman nor Cox intends to vanish from public service. Cox wants to continue doing volunteer work or to pursue a federal position in education, while Foreman plans to dive into the community to encourage kids “to do right and get into college.”
“This is not about individual people. It’s about the 5,000 children in these high schools, and the future that those 5,000 are going to bring to Proviso and the world,” Foreman said.