The Proviso District 209 Board of Education took no action at their meeting Tuesday night that would allow for a make-up testing date for students hoping to secure a spot at Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy (PMSA).

During public comment at Proviso West High School, Connie Brown of Forest Park told board members that her family, and several others with students at Forest Park Middle School, were confused about the application process for PMSA and had missed their opportunity to test before the Friday deadline. Brown said she now knew that the information was posted on the PMSA website but hoped the board would look into the issue for next year so the process could be better communicated.

“It’s just an incredible communication breakdown,” Brown told the board. “If there’s a make-up date, my kid will be there.”

Board members Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner, both of Forest Park, pushed for the board to consider how a make-up test could be scheduled and communicated to Proviso’s feeder districts before the deadline.

PMSA Principal Bessie Karvelas told the board that the application process this year ran as it always had. She said students in District 91 received application materials and test dates in students’ electronic backpacks and that information about the process was presented at three open houses.

Additionally, Karvelas told the board that the completed Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Tests had already been sent in for scoring. Even if students tested this week, it would still take 21 days from when Pearson, the test’s publisher, received the test to get the results. Karvelas also said it would be difficult to get the word out to the feeder districts with so little time before the deadline.

Board President Theresa Kelly also pushed for a make-up test for students who missed the scheduled testing days and said she believed all students who wanted an opportunity to test for placement in PMSA should be able to. She said she understood how working parents could have missed the information if they had not been able to attend an open house.

Board member Brian Cross said he’s had parents call him in the past about missing the testing dates and said he’d talked to the administration before and was told there was nothing that could be done. He said he felt it was unfair to students who took the test on the scheduled days and could open the district to lawsuits if they made a change to the application process at this point.

Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart said no communication plan is perfect, and even if a make-up test date could be held, parents might complain that they weren’t notified of the make-up date with enough time to plan for it.

“We don’t want people angry, but we might solve one problem and create many more,” she said.

During public comment, Brown said that regardless of whether a make-up test could be administered, she felt Proviso should do more to help parents explore their options in sending their students to the district. She said many Forest Park Middle School parents see PMSA as their only option for a good public school, and she would like to see more outreach to Forest Park students about attending Proviso East.

“Why don’t we have tours of Proviso East,” Brown asked, “or pair [incoming students] up with a buddy [at Proviso East] who went to their middle school?”

Proviso East Principal Patrick Hardy said he heard Brown loud and clear when she asked for a welcoming outreach from Proviso East to students in Forest Park. He reminded the board that Brown wasn’t necessarily asking only for a make-up test but for Proviso East to do a better job of opening their doors.

Hardy said he would rather see kids from Forest Park come to school at Proviso East and feel the high school was a good option for them, rather than see them all go to PMSA.

“I want to keep my students,” Hardy said and half-jokingly added, “I don’t even want them to go there.”

Hardy’s comments put the board’s discussion in a new light. Ultimately, Medina and Wagner both said they hoped the district could do a better job communicating the application process in the future. Medina also praised Hardy for his welcoming words.

“I thank you tremendously about that welcoming part,” she said. “I don’t think Forest Park people know that.”

The PMSA application process is currently in review by a committee and will present their recommendations to the board later this year. A total of 17 students from Forest Park Middle School took the required PMSA exams this year, according to PMSA Assistant Principal William Breisch.

To apply for a spot at PMSA, middle school students are required to attend a testing day at PMSA where they write an essay and complete the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. According to Pearson, the Naglieri test can be used in identifying gifted and talented students. Students must also submit the results of their Explore test and complete an application package, which requests grades and letters of recommendation.

Students can apply without the Naglieri test but because it counts for a sizable percentage of the overall score, PMSA officials say it’s unlikely a student would be accepted without it.

Update on search for superintendent

The board also heard a presentation on the district’s search for a superintendent to replace outgoing Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart next school year. The presentation was prepared by BWP, the firm leading the search on behalf of the district.

The district got a look at what stakeholders were looking for in a new superintendent based on the results of a survey and several focus groups. The survey was answered by 82 people, including 27 current staff members and seven students. Focus groups included students, staff, administrators and the community. A community meeting was held at Proviso East High School, Dec. 8, regarding the search for a new superintendent.

Via the survey and focus groups conducted by BWP, a list of the district’s strengths and weaknesses was compiled, as well as the qualities they hoped to find in a superintendent candidate. District strengths included the strong traditions, the legacy of successful alumni, its diversity, available resources, quality of programming and staff and the size of the district.

The most common weaknesses identified were a lack of academic rigor, the political climate, the relationship with feeder schools, and the image of the district.

The district’s facilities were listed as both a strength and weakness.

Stakeholders in the district wanted someone with prior experience in a large, diverse district like Proviso, who is accessible and friendly to students and community and is visible at events, as well as someone who will work collaboratively with the board of education.

To date, BWP said they have received applications from 35 candidates. BWP will identify and screen candidates before presenting 10 to 12 candidates to the board for consideration. The firm is expected to meet with the board of education on Jan. 26 to profile the candidates, as well as give the board training for interviewing candidates.