Three years after members of the Facebook group “Forest Parkers For Better Schools” met inside Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park to talk about the direction of Proviso Township High Schools District 209, the group is now steering the ship.
In 2015, the group, informally called the “Brown Cow 20,” fielded Proviso Together, a three-person slate of candidates to run for three open school board seats. All three candidates — longtime incumbent board member Theresa Kelly, Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner — won handily.
Two years later, Proviso Together pulled off another sweep, with all four of its candidates — Amanda Grant, Sam Valtierrez, Della Patterson and Rodney Alexander — winning first terms.
At an April 27 special meeting held inside the cafeteria at Proviso Math and Science Academy, the four new board members were sworn into office by outgoing board president Teresa McKelvy and Kelly re-assumed the presidency after a unanimous vote.
Grant, who garnered the most votes among the eight-person school board race, was voted vice president while Medina was voted secretary.
In 2016, a year after Kelly had been elected board president, she was ousted from that position when board members McKelvy, Brian Cross, Dan Adams and Kevin McDermott voted to shorten the board president’s tenure from two years to one. McKelvy was then voted Kelly’s successor.
With Kelly again at the helm, the new supermajority is hoping they can pull off a complete overhaul of a district to which, fewer than five years ago, Wagner and Medina were worried about sending their children.
On Thursday, both board members announced that each had one child who would be enrolling at PMSA in the fall. Medina said that when her son received his acceptance letter to PMSA, he called Wagner’s son.
“[My son] said, ‘No matter what we do, we’re going to stay together,'” Medina said. “We’re all here together.”
In their remarks, all of the board members stressed unity and togetherness, a constant theme of both the 2015 and 2017 campaigns.
“It is time for Proviso to unite and to be one union,” said new board member Sam Valtierrez, of Melrose Park. “We have to break the curse of disunity that has broken our community. We must get involved and let the fear go. [That’s how we’ll] see the transformation of our wonderful schools.”
“There is a wealth of talented and amazing people here,” said Grant. “We have the resources. We pay about $90 million in taxes each year to Proviso District 209. What we needed all along and have been sorely lacking is a unified board of education that understands that students come first.”
“I pledge to be earnest, hardworking, full-time, available and consistent in discharging these responsibilities and duties,” said Alexander. “And most of all, I pledge to work together [with fellow board members] as a team.”
Some board members emphasized the importance of enhancing equity at the district. The issue was a centerpiece of a burgeoning strategic plan that D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez presented to the public at a meeting at PMSA last week.
“I am fully committed to working with all community stakeholders to ensure that, regardless of where your child is enrolled, he or she will have the resources to succeed,” said Patterson, who added that her focus will be on raising the district’s standard of academic performance, increasing the range and number of selective courses that are offered and making AP and IB courses more widely available at Proviso East and Proviso West.
Wagner said he plans on building on the record of accomplishments, particularly in the area of equity, that have been secured during the young tenure of Rodriguez, who was hired roughly a year ago.
“I want to continue working on making our schools a welcoming environment for our kids and parents,” Wagner said, pointing out a range of measures that have been implemented within the last two years, such as offering more training for security staff at the district and putting in place restorative justice measures at the school a year before the passage of SB 100.
“We were talking about restorative justice a year before SB 100 passed, which is the law that schools have to do everything they can to keep kids in school rather than just expelling or suspending them,” he said. “We put some good practices in so we’re in really good shape. I want us to build on that, expand on that and create a culture of understanding and acceptance in our schools so our kids can grow into responsible adults.”