Four Proviso school board candidates, hoping to capitalize on momentum from the last round of local elections in 2015, are campaigning to secure a solid majority on the District 209 Board of Education in the upcoming April 4 election.
The four candidates — Rodney Alexander, Della Patterson, Amanda Grant and Samuel Valtierrez — are running as the “Proviso Together” slate and are aligned with several incumbent board members, including Forest Parkers Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina. Together, the candidates intend to reform D209, which has struggled with low academic achievement scores and a not-so-great public image, including a fire and several student fights, for years.
“They started a wonderful movement two years ago,” Grant said of Wagner and Medina, Feb. 23. “I’m proud to have voted for them.”
Grant said Proviso Together is trying to build on the election success of Wagner and Medina and hopes the slate can get enough candidates elected to have at least four votes — a majority on the seven-member board. The slate’s platform, according to their website, calls for more vocational programming, better communication between the district administration and parents, and better financial accountability.
Proviso Together candidates are diverse, with each of the four living in a different Proviso community. They all, however, are parents of former, current or soon-to-be Proviso students.
Amanda Grant, for instance, is a mother of two young kids and says her children will attend Proviso West, regardless of the April 4 election outcome. Grant has lived in Westchester since 2003 and works at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County as an administrative assistant. She is also the co-director of the Westchester Food Pantry. Grant, who grew up in Northern Indiana and Kankakee, said she does not want to leave Westchester.
“I’m really tired of seeing young families move out of my community,” Grant said. “I’m tired of seeing clients in the food pantry come in and want better for their children in high school.”
Another slate member, Samuel Valtierrez of Melrose Park, shared a similar sentiment. Valtierrez, who works as an electrician, has five children. One graduated from Proviso East in 2016 and another attends Proviso Math and Science Academy.
“We have kids in the system. We have a vested interest,” Valtierrez said. “I take that very seriously.”
Valtierrez wants to partner with local tradesmen and help Proviso kids understand there are alternatives to a four-year university education.
“Not every student is going to be a lawyer or a doctor,” he said. “I want to bring the trades back into the schools.”
Della Patterson, who lives in Maywood, also understands the importance of vocational training but says she supports more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes across D209.
Patterson’s three children graduated from Proviso West about 15 years ago and all attended universities after high school. For Patterson, a native Chicagoan and a product of public education herself, there was no hesitation in sending her kids to Proviso schools. Patterson has worked in education for several decades, including as a teenage parent program coordinator in D209.
For Patterson, better communication between district leadership and parents is a top priority. During her time working at Proviso schools, she witnessed several instances of lackluster treatment of parents by school staff. Parents, for instance, might not understand educational jargon, she noted.
“It’s not a parent-friendly district,” Patterson said. “You have to work with parents. You have to make the district welcoming.”
This is Patterson’s fourth time running as a school board candidate. She has campaigned in the last three elections although always as an independent. There are advantages, Patterson said, to aligning with a slate, including better fundraising and messaging opportunities. Valtierrez concurred.
“We support each other,” he said. “They had some of the same ideas and some of the same thoughts and reasons to run for the board.”
Despite running as a slate, Valtierrez, Grant and Patterson all noted that everyone, while sharing similar ideas about D209, is an individual, with unique life experiences and professional backgrounds.
“We all bring our own flavors to the slate,” Grant said.
Rodney Alexander, the slate’s fourth member, lives in Bellwood. He did not respond to requests for an interview.