With a strike by Proviso Township High School teachers likely this Friday, we have a single question.
How long is this elected school board going to allow Supt. James Henderson to be the district’s lead in these contentious and failed contract negotiations? Broader version of the same question: How long will this board continue to employ Henderson as its superintendent?
In our view, over a remarkably short period of time Henderson has proven utterly unable to lead this troubled district. Yes, the challenges in District 209 — academically, financially, socially — go back decades. But there was a brief moment only recently under a unified reform board and a capable superintendent when there was a glimmer of hope.
Rather than build on that elusive progress, a slim majority of the current board continues to back Henderson and his perpetually incendiary approach to leadership. Just in the past week after the not-blameless Proviso Teachers Union pushed back a strike date to continue federally mediated negotiations, Henderson unleashed a public diatribe accusing union leadership of all manner of sins.
There was no proof the union set an initial strike date specifically to derail a basketball playoff appearance by the Pirates of Proviso East. No proof that the union, along with unnamed Forest Parkers and Westchester residents, fueled a student walkout from all three schools in support of teachers ahead of the strike date. No proof of a series of negotiating positions that implied veteran teachers were nothing but greedy extortionists.
In a district that needs healing and vision, James Henderson seems giddy to burn the district to the ground.
He offers no solutions, no common ground, no listening or problem-solving skills. This hire has been disastrous.
While Henderson issued his two-page public rant, Rodney Alexander, the president of the school board and, till now, Henderson’s strongest advocate, was rational, almost conciliatory in his update on the state of negotiations. We can only hope he is becoming more clear-eyed on the profound damage Henderson is doing to this essential institution.
The Review has never been an unfettered fan of teachers unions. There is a lot that is broken in public education overall. And unions have not been progressive advocates for necessary change in how our public schools teach, nurture, connect.
But this ornery, self-important superintendent has driven most students and families, seemingly nearly half the school board, and this newspaper into the teachers’ camp.
If there is a strike on Friday, it will be incumbent on the school board to intervene and, at the very least, appoint a mix of its members to the negotiating team to lower the heat and prove that James Henderson is not the sole voice of this district.