Following several heated and controversial meetings, the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board started things off on a high note at the regular meeting, Oct. 11, held at Proviso West High School.

With nearly 50 community members and district personnel in attendance, Supt. Jesse Rodriguez publicly congratulated Proviso Math and Science Academy’s recent ranking by Chicago Magazine as the number one high school in suburban Cook County this past summer.

PMSA Principal Bessie Karvelas publicly read aloud a resolution from the Cook County Board of Commissioners formally congratulating PMSA for its academic accomplishments plus local recognition presented at the County board’s regular meeting on Oct. 5.

The recognition acknowledged the academic accomplishments of the nearly 800 students attending PMSA, the school’s multifaceted approach to setting a curriculum that prepares students for a 21st-century economy and Chicago Magazine’s ranking of PMSA above a variety of other suburban Cook County school districts with higher per capita incomes and larger economic advantages overall.

Rodriguez said the ranking proves the district has many hard-working students but noted that the achievement could not have occurred without a collective effort on the part of dedicated staff and administrators. Rodriguez asked district administrators to stand for a round of applause.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the other administrators in the district,” Rodriguez said. “I want to thank you administrators for working with teachers every day [and] for supporting our teachers, as you have a huge responsibility in enhancing the work that we do every day. I know that with your support of teachers, we will go from good to great.”

Administrators pay structure

During the district’s finance report, Chief Financial Officer Todd Drafall discussed the development of a compensation pay structure for administrative replacements. 

Drafall said following the last several years of district positions being open and unfilled with no pay structure for interim fill-ins of the vacancies, “We found it important to develop a process or a structure, so that we have a system of how we’re going to do it so it’s fair, equitable and consistent.”

In order to come up with what he considered a fair system, Drafall said he and other administrators looked at the existing pay structures in the district, including current pay ranges, and identified a daily rate, coming up with a criteria as to how an interim pay scale would be used. The structure would include specifics for both internal personnel as well as temporary external personnel filling in for vacancies.

“We put a cap on the number of days it should happen to not burn out staff,” he said. “[However, we] don’t want to use this in lieu of not finding a permanent person.”

Drafall told the board that he is open to feedback on the matter before a vote on approval at the district’s November meeting.

Livestreamed board meetings?

Rodriguez also discussed the district looking into the possibility of live streaming school board meetings for board record and public review. He said he is discussing with all three schools what technology is needed to do so.

“It would be exciting to see our students engage to create something on high school material that we would be proud of,” he said.

Rodriguez said he hopes to get the ball rolling on live streaming in November.

SAT prep issues

Board members and administrators discussed SAT test preparation changes and questions regarding the current divvying up of students from all three schools to participate in preparation classes.

Currently, Proviso East, Proviso West and PMSA each have slots available for 50 students (typically juniors) — 150 district students total — to participate in state testing preparations. Previously, the program was for ACT test preparation, but now that the state of Illinois has changed over to the SAT as the mandatory test for juniors, the district has reformatted the preparation to accurately reflect the new exam.

Board member Theresa Kelly initially had a concern that the equal number of students from each campus did not appropriately reflect the differences in population from each school.

“Shouldn’t we divide that up by the percentage of the juniors at each school so that we’re going to have equal representation?” Kelly asked.

Board member Claudia Medina piggybacked onto Kelly’s inquiry.

“Is there a matter of need here that’s not being addressed at East and West that perhaps needs to be looked at?” she asked.

Kim Echols, assistant superintendent for human resources and technology, said that as of now, the 50-50-50 set-up has been the best solution for filling seats to meet program demand.

“For the SAT test prep program for East, West and PMSA, I have committed to 50 seats [each],” Echols said, “but I shared if there are more students interested in participating, we will pay for the additional students who want the program.”

Echols added that, historically, the district has had more vacant seats for students from East and West and struggled to fill those seats because of the program being held on Saturdays.

“[The test prep] is really for students who are motivated and willing to come,” she explained. “In the past, at East and West, although we advertised, we had a difficult time filling the 50 seats. One year, we gave the seats to PMSA. Last year, we said if we didn’t fill the 50 for East and West, we would pull from the top 10 sophomores to make sure those seats were still allocated for students from Proviso East and West.”

Based on analyzing past data, Echols said she would not want the district to purchase “more seats” than they could fill.

Last year, Echols said the number of juniors eligible to participate in the preparation program included 203 juniors from Proviso West, 177 from Proviso East and 185 from PMSA.

“We requested a number of seats based off trend data of the past five years,” she said. “If more students want to participate, we haven’t denied anyone in the past.”