The 2017-18 academic year at Proviso Township High Schools District 209 will be radically different from years past, based on changes Supt. Jesse Rodriguez outlined during an April 20 meeting at Proviso Math and Science Academy, 8601 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park.
Rodriguez convened the meeting to present the foundation of a long-term strategic plan at the district that his administrative team is in the process of creating and that the board will be expected to approve in the coming months. Some of the measures that will anchor that plan, however, are either already in place or will be in place by the beginning of the next school year.
Those measures and the general direction of the strategic plan that is in formation converge around the issue of equity, Rodriguez said, adding that the issue was a reoccurring theme during the community meetings he convened across the district shortly after he was hired last year.
“There was a lot of feedback, some of it negative, relating to the perception of PMSA,” Rodriguez said, adding that many parents were concerned that PMSA was taking resources away from Proviso East and West.
Rodriguez said community consensus around equity across the three schools partly informed his decision to make some significant budget reallocations. He said his administration saw $1.4 million in staffing adjustments, a $300,000 reduction in administrative costs, and repurposed funding of $2.5 million.
At PMSA, administrators will enroll a freshman class that will be at least 30 percent larger than this academic year, he noted, and much larger than those of years past. And yet, expenses at PMSA will remain at the level they’re at this academic year.
The district is holding the line at PMSA so more money can be spent at Proviso East and West, the two schools that house the majority of the nearly 4,000 district students who failed at least one class during a single semester last year.
Those students will be able to receive more opportunities to recover credits during the school day through more enhanced alternative education options, among other initiatives.
Rodriguez said the budget reallocations also allowed the district to address a common complaint among community members that the district’s facilities have historically been uninviting to visitors and that the district’s attempts at community outreach were wanting.
Next year, parents and guardians who are interested in engaging with their students’ education will be greeted by new parent coordinators eager to take them to newly established parent centers, where they’ll socialize, volunteer and even observe cooking classes.
The district has also created liaisons who will assist with student attendance, residency checks and “all of the attendance work we need to do,” Rodriguez said.
“We have to invest in our community,” he said. “Currently, we don’t do a lot of that. So we’re utilizing some savings to make sure we empower families, communities and students.”
Rodriguez said progress at East and West will be guided by “transformation plans.” At East, where a plan is already in place, that transformation could take up to a decade to “develop, initiate, implement and institutionalize.”
The plan at East includes a transition away from a traditional approach to education, replete with standardized testing and curriculum, toward one that is more personalized and tailored to each student’s needs. East is the first school in the state that the Illinois State Board of Education selected to participate in a new competency-based learning pilot program.
And at all three schools, the district has beefed up its technical education offerings by implementing career academies that will allow students to receive instruction in a range of fields, such as cosmetology and culinary arts.
Rodriguez has also revamped the administration’s organizational structure. The superintendent said when he entered office last year, there were “three offices in three schools,” instead of an efficient, clearly defined central office structure.
“That environment was one where a clear structure did not exist and we had independent practitioners in independent kingdoms making decisions that were not aligned to the board goals or to the direction of the district,” he said. “We were functioning and making transactions, but transactional leadership is not what we need. We need transformational leadership.”
The strategy is part of a three-year plan for introducing new initiatives that will further the three board goals that Rodriguez laid out and which he expects the board to adopt soon. Goal One, he said, is to enhance academic achievement. Goal Two is to ensure effective and efficient operations. Goal Three is to empower students, families and communities.
“I’m proposing we have as our number one goal to enhance academic achievement,” Rodriguez said to an audience of around 50 community members. “That is very important. This is not about operations and dollars and contracts and all the other small work we do in a district. It’s all about promoting academic achievement for all students.”
The administration’s first-year strategy, he said, is to identify “high-impact, low-cost” programs that will be funded largely through budget cuts and reallocations.
“In year two, I will be coming [to the board] with a proposal of $1 million to $3 million,” Rodriguez said, adding that the price tag of his proposal in the third year could be “a little bit more.”
Rodriguez said that, according to a 5-year financial projection that will guide his strategic plan, the district’s spending levels will not rise over the next four years.
“The idea is to maintain the spending levels we are going to have next year over the next four years,” he said. “We will be financially stable.”
Rodriguez said the district’s target fund balance over the next four years is at least $40 million. The district’s annual operating revenue is around $100 million, he said.
“The budgets are going to be balanced, so we won’t have to dip into the fund balance,” he said. “There will be no deficit spending for the next four years.”
Rodriguez explained that in order to create additional initiatives that jibe with the board goals and to maintain rigorous programming like AP and IB instruction while holding the line on spending, his team — which included principals and central office administrators — conducted a cost-benefit analysis along with over 200 hours of brainstorming about programming options.
Administrators also received input gleaned from residents during those community meetings and from students who Rodriguez invited into his office over a period of time. The strategic planning process, he said, has taken nine months and counting. In the coming weeks, the superintendent said he’ll convene more meetings with students and other stakeholders to flesh out the plan.
“In my research, I didn’t find anything similar to a strategy plan,” Rodriguez said. “I had conversations with people who graduated in the [1960s and 1970s], and they said this is the first time they’ve seen a strategic plan or heard Proviso talking about a plan with strategic objectives.”