Proviso high school board President Theresa Kelly and board member Claudia Medina headed out of the suburbs at 5 a.m., Monday morning, to tour Milwaukee public schools. The two members of the District 209 Board of Education were headed for a site visit with the district’s top choice for superintendent.

The D209 board voted unanimously at a special meeting, Feb. 23, to make Dr. Jesse Rodriguez their top choice in the district’s search for a superintendent to replace Nettie Collins-Hart at the end of this school year.

Rodriquez has spent his entire career with Milwaukee Public Schools, Medina said Monday night. His current position with the Milwaukee school district is as a regional superintendent overseeing 26 schools, she said.

“I think Dr. Rodriguez is an incredible choice for the district,” Medina said. “He does well addressing the needs of the students — of the whole community. He’s really a visionary leader.”

Medina said the site visit was one of the last stages the district will go through in their superintendent search process. She said the board would likely discuss the site visit as a group when they meet Tuesday evening for a joint meeting with the FOP. From there, the district will need to formally offer the job to Rodriguez and go through contract negotiations.

But Kelly and Medina liked what they saw in Milwaukee.

“If we were impressed before, we were really impressed after today,” Medina said.

The site visit took Kelly and Medina on a tour of schools in the district, led by Rodriguez. They also had the opportunity to interview people he has worked closely with, observe students in classrooms and discuss at length what his talents might bring to Proviso.

Rodriguez declined to comment at this stage in the process, saying he felt it was too early to give a statement.

Kelly also declined to discuss the vote for Rodriguez at length, noting that although the process was coming to a close, the district still had several steps to take before Rodriguez is officially hired for the position.

“I’d rather wait until the process is done completely,” Kelly said Friday, adding that the vote for Rodriguez was contingent on how the site visit went on Monday and then on offering Rodriguez a contract, which she said she would do personally. She said the board will probably be ready to discuss their search results further at the March 8 board meeting.

Kelly did say, “I think he’s a great choice for Proviso.”

Following the site visit and tour Monday, Medina said she was impressed by Rodriguez’s ability to inspire the people he worked with.

“We really found him to be dynamic and inspiring,” she said. “They give him absolutely stellar reviews. I have no doubt after today that he’ll be a great leader at Proviso. The qualities we saw today are those we want and need in our district.”

Rodriguez was one of two finalists for the position who interviewed with the board in February. The other candidate was Dr. Eric Gallien, a deputy superintendent with the Racine Unified School District in the greater Milwaukee area. Both candidates toured Proviso schools and met with community members for question-and-answer sessions ahead of their interviews with the board.

Kelly said the board was incredibly impressed by both candidates, but ultimately decided on Rodriguez as their top choice during a board discussion. Rodriguez, she said, was identified as someone the board believed would be a transformational leader who would bring new ideas to the district.

She noted that the public’s reaction to both candidates was positive following the candidates’ meetings with the public. The only negative reactions involved messages on Facebook, which circulated after the board announced their decision to select Rodriguez as the top candidate. Some voiced concern over a perceived “heavy accent.” Barbara Cole, the founder of Maywood Youth Mentoring, an area nonprofit, said she was concerned that Rodriguez’s accent would hurt his ability to communicate with the community. Her concern, she said, had nothing to do with his ethnicity.

Asked about those criticisms, board members largely brushed them aside and said they felt the opposition to Rodriguez over any accent issue was small. Board member Ned Wagner said he didn’t think it was worth addressing. Medina agreed it was a non-issue.

“Our choice wasn’t made for one group or another,” Medina said. “It was made for the whole school district, and I don’t see an accent having any effect on his ability to lead our district.”

According to the 2014-2015 Illinois Report Card, more than 40 percent of the student population at each of Proviso’s school is Latino. Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy has the highest Latino enrollment in the district at 55.8 percent of the student body. The number of Latino students attending Proviso East has increased steadily over the last five years, according to the report card.