A year ago a new majority was elected to the school board at our Proviso Township High Schools. Now that majority, together with holdover members of the board, has accomplished the single most critical action an elected school board can undertake. The District 209 board has hired a new school superintendent.

This is the single employee of the school board. Everyone else in the district, if the district can move toward being run right, will work for the superintendent.

And so all of the vision, the frustrations, the checklists, the priorities of this school board must now be channeled into this single person: Dr. Jesse Rodriguez. For a district with as many profound challenges as this one, it is a daunting and an energizing moment.

In an interview Monday with the Review, Rodriguez said many of the right things. He has ideas and experience in a complex urban school district in Milwaukee that he will bring to Proviso Township. He says he will quickly develop a 100-day plan to launch his administration. He offers strong support for the International Baccalaureate program at the Math and Science Academy. More importantly, he speaks clearly of the need to focus on the abysmal academic performance of so many students in the district.

That’s all good. And necessary.

Dr. Rodriguez also spoke Monday of the need for him to arrive as a listener. This needs to be so much more than the perfunctory “listening tour” that politicians and business executives and educators all tout these days. 

These Proviso schools and the constituent parts — parents, teachers, taxpayers, students ­— that make up this deeply scarred district have been actively ignored and disrespected for decades. There is simply no path forward, no 100 days of educational innovation that can succeed until a genuine message is heard, internalized and reflected back to this fractured community that their anger and optimism, their disconnection, disenfranchisement, determined hope for our children, their sour energy and lack of faith in all leadership at Proviso is validated.

One year ago an overwhelming majority of voters in this district, a coalition of people who did not know it was possible to coalesce, voted for possibility. Voters gave a stinging back of the hand to a slate of candidates who represented continuity with a cynical, failed past of insider dealing where high school students and their families were truly pawns. 

So we now know that values of education are shared across all the Proviso towns, that race — black, Hispanic and white — is not a wedge but a lever for change. We know there is a flickering of hope, a passion for kids, an understanding that rot must be swept away, an appreciation that the road ahead is going to be hard.

But Dr. Rodriguez, this is your moment. Come to us with a humble heart, listen silently, ask sincerely, invite partnerships, build connections, fight factions, be candid but hope filled, communicate to the entire township in as many ways as possible. 

Finally, forward.

5 replies on “Listening at Proviso”