Four school board candidates made their election pitches to about a dozen Hillside residents at the Hillside Public Library, Feb. 25, hoping to drum up support for their campaigns in an election just six weeks away.

The candidates — Rodney Alexander, Arbdella Patterson, Amanda Grant and Samuel Valtierrez — make up the reform-minded “Proviso Together” slate in the April 4 election. The foursome spent nearly three hours answering questions from residents and discussing the future of the district, which serves 10 suburbs. All four candidates are parents of current or former Proviso students, a fact featured prominently in each pitch.

“I saw the need for these kids to get a better education, to achieve something in life,” Valtierrez, whose son graduated from Proviso East in 2016, said. “Our schools aren’t providing that. It makes me so upset. We must rise up and doing something about it.”

The event, organized by Hillside Forward, a local neighborhood group, focused on a wide range of issues, including academic achievement, student attendance rates, parent involvement, K through 12 cross-district collaboration, financial accountability, district leadership and curriculum. Ned Wagner, a Forest Parker and current District 209 board member who supports the Proviso Together slate, was also in attendance.

Paul Kasley, a Hillside resident for several decades, mentioned the need to change the stigma of vocational programs in high schools.

“There seems to be this perception in education that vocational training is for dummies,” Kasley said. “Somehow the idea has been planted in our minds that you’re only useful if you go to college.”

Wagner mentioned the planned “Career Academies” at Proviso East as a step in the right direction. The academies, which will begin in fall 2017, are curriculum tracks designed to prepare students for professions after high school and better serve their individual interests, according to the D209 website. The academies include “Arts and Communications” and “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”

Valtierrez, an electrician, also spoke about his appreciation for technical and vocational training.

Other attendees, including one Hillside mother, lamented the choice many Proviso parents must make once their children reach high school age: move to another community with better performing schools or find a way to afford parochial or private school tuition.

Grant, a mother of two young children herself, sympathized with the woman and said that dilemma was a motivating issue for her candidacy.

“Do I stay or do I go?” she said. “I’ve gone with the third option which is roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

Other residents, like Greg Gibbons, just came to meet the candidates and get a sense of their campaign messages.

“I just wanted to come, get updated on what’s going on,” Gibbons said.

None of the four candidates on the Proviso Together slate are from Hillside. The slate, however, is geographically diverse, with each candidate hailing from a different Proviso community: Melrose Park, Westchester, Bellwood and Maywood.

“We need to have a balanced board. That slate was put together consciously,” Wagner said. 

“You have to get your message out to all these communities. That’s one of the challenges of District 209.”