In an interview just after their election, the new board majority at Proviso Township High Schools talked about what might prove to be their most significant challenge. With so much wrong in this failing district how could the board set its priorities, how could it avoid being endlessly distracted?
The talk that night around a dining room table in Forest Park was about crafting a simple mission statement. “Child advocacy, educational excellence and community presence” were three terms used that hopeful evening as potential underpinnings of a mission.
Now as this new board begins to settle into their daunting burden, we see positive signs in their early actions — actions we see as both signals and practical responses to the past history of political culture and indifference to students.
At its first meeting after being sworn in, the board majority, sometimes joined by almost enthused holdovers, took three notable actions:
Student discipline: The board informed the administration it was time to rethink discipline policies and the district’s approach to expulsions. It asked for input from the administration even as it formed a new student behavior committee.
It is hard to overestimate the complexity of creating an equitable discipline system in a troubled high school. It is also hard to overestimate the necessity of creating a safe and calm environment for learning by the vast majority of kids who want to learn.
There is not a doubt that the current system is broken and needs to be taken down. But the process of building a new discipline system needs to rely on good listening among many constituencies, clear (and clearly communicated) goals and a determination to avoid extreme positions. No talk of zero tolerance, for instance.
Administrators on the front line: Currently the top administrators in District 209 are almost literally in an ivory tower on the fifth floor of the Proviso Math and Science Academy at First Avenue and Roosevelt Road. To say the offices are lavish would make a corporate CEO blush. These offices are gigantic, look out at Chicago’s skyline and are kept under perpetual lock and key. No student, teacher or parent ever enters this inner sanctum without an invitation.
If there is an indication of tone deafness or, more directly, disdain for the kids and teachers toiling away at Proviso East, we don’t see it. The new board told administrators to prepare to relocate into repurposed space in a wing at East, damaged two years ago by fire. Make it happen by fall and take away the key cards that block access. Throw those doors wide open.
Boot the lawyers: If you don’t cover the intersection of school boards and law firms, it would not be immediately apparent how fetid the relationship between a school board, its attorneys and administrators can grow to be. When politicized lawyers have heavy influence in a school district, students will not count.
The board has already asked for alternative choices to the Del Gado Law Group.
All in all, a very good start.