The school year may be winding down, but the drama continues on the Proviso High School District 209 Board of Education.
The board held a special meeting at Proviso Math and Science Academy on May 6, solely for the purpose of discussing action items related to changing the policy regarding the term of the board presidency, followed by the election of new board officers.
After over an hour of heated discussion regarding Theresa Kelly’s role as president, along with arguments between board members regarding whether the board lacks cohesion under Kelly, the board members voted 4-3 to oust Kelly from the presidency.
Prior to board discussion, however, they opened up the floor for citizen comments.
Forest Park resident Anna Friedman questioned the importance of voting to kick Kelly out as president.
“I’m just wondering why this is a priority right now when there are thousands of other action items on the agenda rather than some sort of administrative change,” she said. “The students of our district deserve a lot better than action items that have nothing to do with education.”
Forest Park resident Andrew Cooper agreed with Friedman, adding that the decision undermines the public’s confidence.
“The officers do get to be selected by the board, but that’s immediately after the public election,” he said. “The personal squabbles, professional squabbles are a distraction from what the board’s real mission is. This does nothing to further improve schools, and it doesn’t set a good role model for students and people in the community. There are a lot of problems to address, and I would like to see the board do more to really tackle those problems.”
Once the board discussion began, members Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner outwardly disagreed with the action item, questioning board member Kevin McDermott on why such a change is needed.
“I don’t understand the urgency to change and truncate the president’s term, so why the resolution?” Wagner asked.
McDermott fired back with comments, repeated from past meetings, that a majority of the board has lost trust in Kelly’s overall leadership.
“The president was voted to the presidency by the unanimous vote of seven to nothing a year ago,” McDermott said. “In that time, she has lost the confidence of the majority of the board. There are four members of the board who have lost confidence in the president’s ability to lead [so] we feel there is a need for a change in leadership now.”
Medina contested that statement, saying McDermott’s statements are based solely on sentiment, not facts.
“We’re asking for facts that substantiate the motion,” she explained. “What kind of actions has she taken that would allow for such a motion to be put on the table, when in a few more days, we’re going to have a board meeting and there’s so many other more important things that actually have to do with the direction of the board, like getting a new superintendent. What facts do you have that she’s not leading, because there’s been a lot more accomplishments by this board president than there has been before?”
McDermott then listed reasons he and other board members, including Brian Cross, Daniel Adams and Teresa McKelvy, consider to be ill leadership from Kelly.
McDermott read a list of alleged statements by Kelly, starting with a statement that Kelly reportedly said regarding her initiation of a transparent superintendent search for hiring a superintendent to raise district educational standards.
“I agree, we hired a superintendent who is potentially stellar,” McDermott said. “However, the fact is that the superintendent search was necessary due to the resignation of Dr. Collins-Hart. It was mandated by and coordinated to a great extent from the [Financial Oversight Panel].”
Other arguments by McDermott included Kelly incorrectly addressing herself as the initiator of restorative justice in the schools without any follow up, bringing in new textbooks for students, implementing new training for security, bringing air conditioning to summer school students at PMSA, installing the new track and windows at Proviso East and starting the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at PMSA.
McDermott disputed those claims, saying Kelly should not be taking ownership of things other board members have initiated or things that had already taken place. That included textbook funds allocated under McDermott’s finance committee leadership, air conditioning already installed at PMSA since it’s opening in 2005, Proviso East track and window plans funded before her presidency, and the IB program initiated under Adams’ presidency.
Kelly countered McDermott’s accusations, saying she was misunderstood about who exactly made district improvements.
“I always say ‘we’,” Kelly said. “Under my leadership, I say ‘We did this, we did that.’ I do not single out any person.”
Kelly went on to defend her effectiveness as president, using the examples raised by McDermott.
“Restorative justice is prevailing very well at the schools,” she said. “I brought in CPI training for security and deans, so those things are working. We were able to get the 1.5 million dollars and we got books for all students. IB came about from me and Chris Welch [when the board] proposed we get an IB program.”
McKelvy insisted Kelly’s attitude as president has caused factions among board members as she continually singles herself out as the person bringing about change to the district.
“There are seven board members on this board, and nothing can pass without four board members,” McKelvy said. “The work done on this board is because the majority approved these things. When things come before us, all of us decide if we should move forward on these things, not just one board member. No single board member can take the credit for everything going on in this district.”
The board then discussed committee meeting transparency, with some members saying that committees are supposed to report to the board while others said committees should also include collective feedback from other members.
Kelly insisted she has continually encouraged all board members to keep abreast of committee meeting topics.
“You can take time out of your busy schedules to come to the meetings,” she said. “We have community members and teachers at some of them, and we all collaborate and try to get what’s best for the schools and the students.”
McDermott went on to argue that as president, Kelly should have done a better job of setting district agendas than she has.
“The key part of setting that agenda is creating teams, building cohesiveness and cooperation,” he said. “In fact, Ms. Kelly, you have done the exact opposite from the year you’ve been in power here. We have had the most divided board I have seen in my time here.”
Kelly rebutted that McDermott and the other board members against her still had provided no compelling arguments against her presidency.
“I’m helping to move the district forward with the help of the board,” she said. “[The community] wants us to go from good to great, and we’ve been making great strides in that direction. Now all of you are complaining and I don’t understand why.”
At the end of the meeting, the board went in and out of recess as they disagreed about voting on the action item, arguing over the legalities of the voting process and consulting with the board’s attorney in front of the public audience.
When the board finally did vote on the agenda item on school board policy 2:110 regarding qualifications, term and duties of board officers, the members voted 4-3 to reduce the term of the board presidency to one year. Cross, Adams, McDermott and McKelvy voted in favor of the move and Wagner, Medina and Kelly voted against the decision.
The three dissenters continued to defend their opinion that change was not necessary because, as president, Kelly has no greater power than other members of the board. They motioned to overrule the decision, which was shot down 4-3 by the same foursome that prevailed in the previous vote.
After voting, Kelly was no longer the board president. Once the floor was open for board nominations, Teresa McKelvy was selected as president, Daniel Adams as vice president and Brian Cross as secretary.