Saying the new board would focus on “vision, accountability, transparency, progress and excellence,” long-time board member Theresa Kelly of Maywood was sworn in as board president of Proviso Township High School District 209 April 30.

“The people have spoken,” Kelly said. “We are no longer responsible to the interests of any one person or group, but we are accountable to our children and to our communities.”

Six of seven board members voted for Kelly as president, with board member Brian Cross abstaining. Kevin McDermott was voted vice president unanimously and Claudia Medina, newly elected to the board from Forest Park, was voted secretary with board member Teresa McKelvy abstaining.

The reconstituted board has the potential to give a majority vote to former underdogs Kelly and McDermott, who have often been on the losing end of five-to-two votes for the past six years.

But Thursday, all board members spoke of working cooperatively going forward and trying to build a non-polarized board. 

Kelly has pledged to divide members into committees, as opposed to the top-down governance in place for the 15 year leadership of former President Emanuel Chris Welch – now 7th Dist. State Representative – and outgoing President Dan Adams. 

Adams said he “looked forward to moving forward with the district.”

“The elections are over,” said Brian Cross. “It’s time to get down to governing.”

In the audience were supporters from Forest Park, as well as notables from other Proviso feeder towns.

Newly minted Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon said the election of the whole Kelly, Medina and Wagner ticket was a sign of “a lot of energy to move forward and turn things around for thousands of young people [in Proviso high schools].”

“This is the biggest movement I’ve seen in Proviso in a long time,” said Brandon, 27, who has been following local politics since he was a precocious middle-schooler.

Also in attendance were Maywood supporters and regular school board meeting faces Antoinette Gray and Della Hayes Patterson.

Forest Park Elementary District 91 school board members Mary Win and Eric Connor, Sean Blaylock and Nora Bowker were also in the audience. Also there was Forest Park Commissioner Chris Harris, who supported the entire ticket when he narrowly lost his campaign for mayor of Forest Park. Mayor Anthony Calderone supported only Medina and Wagner.

Claudia Medina said she was “honored” to be the first Latina board member elected. “Parents will finally know they have someone bilingual on the board, and [the board] will feel more approachable,” she said. Medina is of Columbian heritage. “We’re finally representing the full spectrum of the community.”

Wagner said the new board would look at the district “top to bottom” and make sure all the high schools in the district are “aligned with the same vision and goals.”

Wagner said he hoped the board could “make something amazing happen and have a lot of fun.”

“When learning is fun, when being a teenager is fun, when being a teacher is fun, that makes it easier to work hard to do what you have to do,” he said.

McDermott said, “The opportunities are limitless – a lot can be done. Of course we have to pick our priorities and decide which are the most important.”

District 209 Superintendent Nettie-Collins Hart said this is the third board transition she has experienced. “Each board has new priorities,” she said.

“We’ve met in an orientation and the new board members have given me some things to think about.”

This is the second go-round as president for Kelly, who is the longest-serving seated board member. In 2001, during her first presidency, she was part of a majority that voted with Welch. One example was to cancel plans in Nov. 2001 for a magnet school proposed on Melrose Park land later developed by Costco. Melrose Mayor Ron Serpico opposed the plan, and it died when Welch was elected to the school board. Proviso Math and Science Academy ended up in Forest Park in a repurposed office building purchased from Loyola Hospital.

But Kelly soon started to oppose Welch, often the lone dissenter in six-to-one votes for eight years. She was joined by McDermott in 2009.

Thursday night, Kelly said she felt “optimistic and energized” that the board was now on track to “transform this district.”

“The sky is the limit when everyone works together,” she said.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...