Walking up to the tower entrance at Proviso East High School, there is a marble bench donated by the class of 2015. On the bench is etched, “Failure is not an option.”
About three years ago, there was a lackluster public presentation at the Forest Park Community Center, given by former principal Tony Valente, about Proviso East. His presentation opened with “infractions” at East, detentions and suspensions, and focused on dispelling safety myths. He used graphs and statistics to show me and the other two Forest Parkers who came to hear him share his knowledge about the community high school. What he didn’t talk about were things I heard from other area high schools like “Things that are best,” “Excellence,” “Being awesome,” or “High achievement.”
So when I went to East two weeks ago for a tour, I was not only interested in seeing the hallways, the classrooms, the bathrooms, the stairways, the auto shop, the night school, and the ROTC, I was also interested in meeting Principal Patrick Hardy, who started 10 months ago, and to hear what he might say and what he didn’t say.
I was looking for trust. I was looking for transformation and vison. If there is no trust, companies fail, schools fail, communities fail. Leaders trust, leaders extend trust before signs have been offered. The foundation of leaders is that they go first — with a vision.
The University of Chicago and the Urban Education Institute has a diagnostic tool to identify strengths and weaknesses in schools called the 5Essentials Evaluation. This is available publicly on their website, 5-essentials.org. This survey collects feedback from teachers, administrators, students and parents from every Illinois school. Five areas in schools are measured, scored and evaluated:
1. Ambitious instruction;
2. Effective Leaders;
3. Collaborative Teachers;
4. Involved Families;
5. Safe and effective schools.
Within each category there are measurements, scores, trends and more drilled information.
While each piece of this puzzle is important, the one piece that was most glaring to me in the 2014-15 school year was that only 5 percent of teachers trusted the Proviso East principal. Leadership takes trust. Trust takes time. The previous assessment says that in 2015, Proviso East is not yet organized for improvement. So when the graduating class of 2014-2015 donated a marble bench for future students to read on their way in and out of school that says, “failure is not an option,” I believe they were making a statement to the whole Proviso community.
The newest results from 2015-2016 survey have not been made available on the 5Essential website yet. I know that quality change takes time, trust and vision. It also requires stakeholders, families, alumni, citizens, input and attention. I had a few Forest Park friends along on the tour of Proviso East. Our tour guide, L.T. Taylor, manager of building and grounds, took us around campus. We saw classrooms, some with computers, some without. There were some classrooms with modern technology and classrooms without. Since school was out for summer, we saw men working on summer clean-up, rooms with air conditioning and rooms without. We saw the magnificent Proviso East library, the beautiful auditorium where the fire occurred two years ago, and saw the pipes of the pipe organ that Forest Parkers raised funds for in 1919. We walked the track to see the automotive shop where students were working. We met up with Dr. Hardy, who insisted we call him Patrick, as we stood at the side of the Proviso East Pool.
As he shared Proviso East with us, he talked about organization, students, tardiness, and foundations.
Then I returned to Proviso East last Thursday for a presentation offered for alumni and current students. Although I’m not an alum or current student, I went. It was interesting to me to see that there were at least five incoming freshmen, accompanied by their parents, who were as curious as I was, along with several alumni from other towns.
A repeat of the presentation will be given publicly during the 209 board meeting at 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12 at Proviso Math and Science Academy. Not only is this presentation of Proviso East given by Principal Hardy going to be public, but this will also be the first meeting with the new superintendent of Proviso 209 high schools, Dr. Jesse Rodriquez.
There is new leadership in Proviso, and the time is right to start to learn if real transformation is in Proviso’s future. If you are interested or curious, come to the meeting or attend remotely on the 209 Together Facebook page.
In order to succeed, we have to agree. Failure is not an option.