Addressing skepticism about the future of Proviso East and District 209, first-year Principal Patrick Hardy outlined a project called “Proviso East’s School Transformation Plan” in a presentation to the D209 Board of Education last month. 

According to Hardy, the multi-layered project is a community plan geared toward meeting challenges at the school described by several groups involved with the Proviso East community. The components of the plan are being proposed to the district to get started over a three-year phase-in schedule.

Hardy presented the plan but insists the program was developed by the community, for the community.

Over the past eight months, he said, parents, alumni, students, faculty and other stakeholders have met to develop the plan.

“I get the privilege of being the face of the product, but I didn’t go in my office and write a plan,” Hardy said.

Highlights include moving to “mastery learning,” establishing four career academies, launching an action team for partnership, implementing a four-year post-secondary plan for all students, and enhancing student-to-school connections.

Hardy said the goals were developed after hearing community concerns about quality of education and learning that some students say they feel disconnected and want to build better student-teacher relationships.

Hardy said the school has needed something like this for quite some time and also noted to the board and the public that the plan is state-mandated.

“It’s not an option here,” he said. “When I was hired, I understood the plan was due this year. It’s not a traditional school improvement plan; it’s a school transformation plan. We just leveraged the opportunity as opposed to doing the same old work here. The community said, ‘Let’s not harp on the fact that the state says you have to write it and actually write something meaningful and get everyone involved in that process.'”

While administrators have bounced different ideas for change around in the past, what makes this transformation plan unique is that the school worked closely with a number of different people to figure out what everyone envisions for current and future students. The school organized data from polling parents, met with alumni who offered suggestions, and discussed with teachers best educational practices to meet the needs of students.

While many ideas are new, Hardy said, the school does not necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars or come up with new resources to meet the plan’s goals.

For example, one way to help students have a clear sense of their post-graduation plans involves utilizing Naviance, a comprehensive software program already owned by the school which helps align student strengths and interests with post-secondary plans and improve student achievement outcomes.

“We can do this with the resources we have, and we don’t have to ask you for additional funds,” said Hardy, who remains optimistic about implementing the transformation plan, his biggest concerns being finances, school philosophy and fear of failure.

Hardy says even with the district’s shaky history of finances, the school has done its best to anticipate financial variables that may arise.

“Any reasonable person understands that something could come up,” he said. “I don’t mean to the tune of millions of dollars, but when you write a plan, the state asks you to account for things and we did.”

Philosophically, he says some schools tend to quit when the going gets tough but hopes Proviso East won’t follow the trend.

“We [quit] in education way too much,” he said. “We start something, we stop something. We can’t afford to do that this time. The kids lose when that happens.”

He also hopes the school faces its fear of failure as a means of self-improvement.

“This is my first year at Proviso East, and this is not the environment that will allow you to fail,” he said. “Businesses do it all the time; go back to the drawing board and understand the importance of figuring out what’s wrong. My attitude is we’re going to put out the best product we can, and if we rise or fall, we have to be willing to come to the table and do it again.”

From the school board’s perspective, first-term member Ned Wagner said he is pleased Hardy has worked hard on the implementation of such a thorough plan.

“We went through an exhaustive principal search last year and we were looking for a principal not just to hold the fort but someone who had the educational background and spirit to really do something special,” Wagner said. “Proviso East has been stuck in a rut for a very long time [and this is] such a brave, courageous revision of a high school. It’s exactly what Proviso East needs. I think it can contribute to a culture of purposeful learning.”

Hardy continues to insist he is not the only one behind this initiative.

“I’m just thankful to everyone for helping us get this far,” he added. “We’re going to do our absolute best.”

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