Recently, we had the pleasure of meeting three of the four candidates running for the Proviso District 209 school board under the Proviso Together banner. Rodney Alexander was unable to attend the coffee we hosted at our home. We invited friends and neighbors, and we were happy that a diverse crowd of people came to meet the candidates.

Amanda Grant, Della Patterson and Samuel Valtierrez spoke individually on their reasons for running for this important office, and each outlined several ideas for making the D209 a school district all residents of Proviso Township could be proud of. 

Two of the current board members (Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina) were present, and we were able to hear firsthand some of the progress that has been made since their election two years ago. The assembled group heard some demonstrable evidence that real and substantive change is happening. 

In the last two years, the board has made some important and much-needed changes in the direction of the district. They launched a nationwide search and hired Dr. Jesse Rodriguez as the new superintendent and, along with a new principal at Proviso East, Dr. Patrick Hardy, significant achievements are evident. Textbooks that were more than 20 years old have been replaced with current and updated versions. With the new leadership, out-of-school suspensions have dropped dramatically, and the graduation rate for freshmen this year has climbed significantly. There have been significant upgrades to the facilities at all three high schools, and the students are responding in a very positive way to this investment in their future. 

These are amazing achievements and prove that a board working together for the betterment of the schools can make a difference. 

The candidates attending the gathering in our home displayed the passion required to meet the challenges that continue to face our high school district. They all discussed ideas to change the culture at the schools and make it an institution available to all high school students in Proviso Township. 

The group asked hard questions, and not one of the candidates failed to answer. When the candidates left and our friends from the neighborhood stayed to discuss the evening, it was apparent, and we all agreed, that as longtime residents in this district, real demonstrable change is happening, and for the first time in many years, I am hopeful that Proviso East can become an option for all residents of Forest Park. 

It is not easy to put your “hat in the ring” and run for office. These candidates have accepted the challenge and are prepared to do the work required to move Proviso District 209 forward. I urge each and every voter to do the research on this fine group of candidates and you will discover, like we did, that this group can make a difference. 

I will be voting on April 4 for the Proviso Together candidates: Sam Valtierrez, Amanda Grant, Ardella Patterson, and Rodney Alexander, and I encourage you to do the same.

Timothy Gillian is the Forest Park village administrator. Dorothy Gillian is a local realtor.