The race for three open seats on the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board has been dominated by two three-person slates with eerily similar names — Proviso Together and Proviso United — so the average voter might be forgiven if they fail to recognize that there are actually seven people in the running.
Sandy Aguirre, a longtime Melrose Park resident, said in a recent interview that she’s hoping to distinguish herself from the field by focusing on issues like providing more resources for Hispanic students in the district and reaching out to feeder districts and local elected officials.
Aguirre said that she was recently approached by two young people who attend Proviso West and don’t speak English, because the school lacks resources, such as ESL teachers, for Spanish-speaking students.
“Inclusion is how we make this work,” she said. “All of our children have to attend these high schools. When we unite resources and we’re inclusive, our kids will see it and feel that they’re being heard and appreciated.”
Aguirre added that, if elected, she’ll commit to attending the board meetings of D209’s feeder districts and reaching out to mayors and trustees in various municipalities in Proviso Township — something, she said, she’s already started to do during her campaign.
“I’ve already talked to several mayors,” she said. “I’m trying to reach out to all of them.”
That outreach has prompted speculation among some political observers in the township that Aguirre could be Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico’s way of reasserting political influence on the D209 board just as the district gears up to spend nearly $100 million on phase one construction projects related to its facilities master plan.
In 2017, Proviso Together — a grassroots coalition of community activists from various Proviso villages with a strategic base in Forest Park — won a 7-person supermajority on the board. Since then, one of the party’s members, board member Della Patterson, of Maywood, has withdrawn her support and is backing Proviso United.
Complicating the party’s efforts to maintain unity, board member Sam Valtierrez, a Melrose Park resident elected in 2017 on the Proviso Together slate, helped circulate petitions for Aguirre. Mayor Serpico also helped Aguirre circulate petitions.
During last weekend’s interview, Aguirre eagerly addressed the speculation, explaining that she and Valtierrez have been community activists in Melrose Park for years.
“Sam and I started out together,” she said. “I canvassed the street during his election and he’s helped canvass during mine. We have been working together for a long time. He knows me. When I decided to run, I called all of my colleagues and friends and told them that this is what I wanted to do.”
She added that during her previous attempts to run for a Melrose Park trustee seat and for a seat on the Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 school board, she ran against candidates backed by Serpico.
Aguirre said that she approached Serpico as a constituent, just as she’s approached other mayors in Proviso Township, and the two “found common ground” in the schools. She added that just because she opposed Serpico in the past shouldn’t rule out their present collaboration.
“If all of us sit down and listen to each other, we will understand how much common ground we have,” she said.
As for the facilities master plan, Aguirre said that she hopes that the board is developing the capital improvements “for the next 50 years.”
On Jan. 8, the D209 board voted unanimously to accept the scope of work in the final plan, and to initiate the preliminary design and construction phases of a first round of improvements that could cost an estimated $77 million and take until 2022 to complete.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and there’s no room for error,” Aguirre said. “Construction is a beast in itself. Do they have money allotted for all the problems that will most likely arise? Are we looking, for instance, into renewable energy for the future and technological improvements that will come along? Are they certain that that this plan will be sustainable?”
Aguirre attended Melrose Park Elementary School (before it became a middle school) before moving to Mexico to attend high school. Both of her daughters attended Melrose Park, she said. Her oldest graduated from Proviso East while her youngest is currently a senior at Walther Christian Academy in Melrose Park.
“I’ve always had a passion for public service,” Aguirre said. “I want to be part of the structure of positive change that will hopefully continue within our district, because good schools are valuable for all of us.”