With four weeks of school already behind them and midterm exams approaching, students, teachers and parents of Proviso East High School complained at a Sept. 16, District 209 board meeting about incomplete course schedules, grossly overcrowded classrooms, low faculty morale and even administrative bullying.
About seven students — most members of the PEHS student council spoke during the meeting’s public comments — as well as five parents. About 60 parents and students filled the Social Room at Proviso East.
“Right now, I have two ‘A’s’ … I don’t deserve those two A’s,” said one member of the council, a high school junior. “I’m not learning anything. Just reading out of a book and copying paper? That’s not learning anything. I need a teacher. This is four weeks into school. I’m in physics honors — no teacher,” she said.
Mona Johnson, president of the Proviso Teachers Union, said teachers in the district have been forced to put up with class sizes that are much larger than 25 students, which is the ideal, board-approved size stipulated in the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). In addition to the overcrowding, Johnson noted, teachers and students are still shuffling between classroom and subject assignments.
“Our teachers are being handicapped to do an effective job when the class sizes are in the 30s and some academic classes are over 35,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that, although the Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) recommended 275 certified staff for D209, that number is actually 259, with one faculty member on leave. Johnson said that 16 more teachers could be hired to fill that deficit.
Dr. Clotilde Frankiewicz, a math teacher at Proviso East, said that her teaching assignments have changed four times in as many weeks and that class sizes are unbalanced. She said her third period class has 42 students and her sixth period class has 32.
District 209 counselor Beverly Dent-Robertson read a litany of complaints, such as core classes — including biology, chemistry, earth science and physics — that lack highly qualified instructors and courses that have been taught solely by substitutes “since day one” of the school year.
“The morale is at an all-time low and people want out in the worst way,” she said. “I am speaking of teacher positions that were removed from our teaching pool and never replaced.”
“Like a recurring nightmare, I keep hearing the voice of our superintendent who stood before the entire employment pool of this district during Institute Day boasting about the small number of new hires for the teaching staff,” Dent-Roberston said. “To paraphrase what she said: ‘This is the first year in my tenure as superintendent that we only had to hire seven teachers.'”
Della Patterson, of Parents and Students Rights and local educational activist said one parent texted her a photo taken by her son, who attends Proviso East. The photo appears to show a class full of students taking their own attendance. Patterson claimed that, on the Friday before the board meeting, there were approximately 60 teachers who weren’t in the classroom due to ‘low morale.’
After public comment, Asst. Supt. Kim Echols told the board class sizes at all three district high schools are in balance and, while not at the ideal average of 25, fall within a range that is as close to that ideal as the three building principals could get based upon the course and scheduling matrix.
“As of today, the average class size is around 28 for core classes and closer to 30
for elective classes,” she said. “I appreciate the teachers and the union for working with us as we continue to address concerns regarding class size … tutoring will be available for any student who needs additional support as a result of a scheduling change.”
In an email statement, Proviso East Principal Tony Valente said, “to be fiscally responsible, you have to staff for the enrollment you have, not on what you may have. If you don’t know your staffing needs until after Labor Day due to late enrollments, then the schedule begins to shift, causing students who are enrolled to possibly change schedules.”
The barrage of complaints and testimony upset some board members.
“I am appalled by hearing this,” said Kevin McDermott after public comments. “I have met the same kind of resistance from this administration that many of you are now talking about … At some point, we as a board are owed some kind of explanation. This sounds like some form of mess. What are we doing?”
His question was addressed to Superintendent Collins-Hart, who did not respond. She did address the issue via email correspondence a few days later.
“We are very concerned that students had multiple schedule changes,” she said in a statement. “The issues have been remedied and the administration has worked with students to transition them to their new classes. In some cases, the schedule changes were due to overcrowding in some classes and an attempt to balance those classes.
“Some students were changed to a different class, but kept the same teacher. However, multiple transitions to students are disruptive, and the school has worked to remedy that.”