Editor’s note: This editorial relates to this story about the D209 board meeting on Feb. 27.
The history of Proviso Township High Schools for most of the past 25 years is one of pervasive failure in teaching students, in respecting taxpayers’ dollars, in allowing the valuable physical assets of the district to wither, in building a community. It is a tale of grift and political self-dealing. It is astounding in the perpetual instability of its professional leadership with a wildly revolving door of superintendents and other administrators hired, fired, and, too often, hired again. And there is the humiliation of having the bankrupt state of Illinois, with its sorry history in public education, sending in a financial oversight board to make some sense of the wreckage in the ledger books.
Then there is the remarkable window of the past six years when a reform slate of school board members was miraculously elected and re-elected, a strong superintendent was hired, the state withdrew its oversight, and a plan was made to reclaim the three schools academically, physically and with a culture of hope and determination.
Always it was a fragile comeback. And now we fear it is being lost with a school board seemingly under the spell of a new superintendent, Dr. James Henderson, of whom, sad to say, we have nothing but suspicion.
The superintendent is consolidating his authority and his reach rapidly and, fundamentally, privately. A special Saturday school board meeting was a whirlwind of proposed and approved reordering on a grand scale. Board committees were upended at the Feb. 9 meeting, dozens of administrators were set up for either demotion or expulsion at the close of the year, technology services are on a path to be outsourced while food service and transportation are to be brought in-house. Why and how much were not explained. A path was opened for the district to exit from a special education co-op.
There were no accompanying documents provided to the public to lay out these ideas. There was no response from the superintendent or his PR person to the Review’s questions.
In response to queries from a minority of board members urging the district to keep its hand directly on the tiller of finance and facilities — and surely in response to general skepticism about the current direction of the district, certainly from this newspaper, Rodney Alexander, the current president of the school board, made one of the most preposterous declarations we’ve ever recorded.
“There’s a lot of talk about the history of the district,” he said. “I have no responsibility or bear no accountability to the public about the history I was not a part of. Nor will I try to appease them about history that I was not a part of. You judge me by the work that I’ve done since I’ve been on this board.”
To which we say, ignore the history of this district at your peril. It’s putrid. And history repeats.
If, Mr. Alexander, you are so proud of the work you have done on this board, why are you so ready to allow an untested superintendent arriving in this most traumatic COVID year to upend so much of what has been thoughtfully rebuilt in District 209?
Trust is earned. Dr. Henderson, who seldom stays for long in a job, has not earned that trust.