The Forest Park Review sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Review’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.

Theresa L. Kelly | Provided

Name: Theresa L. Kelly

Previous Political Experience:  D209 board member for 23 years, including as president and vice-president

Previous /Current Community Involvement: Designated as a “Distinguished Board Leader” by the State of Illinois; school volunteer and youth mentor recognized by local and national organizations for leadership and public service

Occupation:  Public Service

1.   Please describe what in your opinion have been specific  accomplishments made by District 209 over the past two years. 

We’ve had several significant and in some cases, historical accomplishments over the past two years: 

  1. We are proud of the fact that this is the first time in ten years Proviso East has been removed from the list of lowest performing high schools in Illinois. 
  2. District 209 will generate 71 million for capital improvement during FY 24/25 at no tax rate impact to our community, no impact to operating funds and no impact to our fund balance. 
  3. We have a $82 million fund balance at an extremely low 2% tax rate – Which is very low compared to many of our neighboring districts.
  4. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program will have opportunities on all three campuses.
  5. Evening school to increase graduation rate and focus on college, careers with the intent to decrease drop out rates. 
  6. 8 period day schedule established at all three schools for Academic Equity 
  7. First phase of facility upgrades –  completed $12 million on time and on budget.
  8. PMSA  ranked 6 in State of Illinois by U.S. News and World Report.
  9. Freshmen on track to graduate has increased significantly from 68% to 85% the biggest jump ever in D209
  10. Quality of life and academic environment upgrades targeting our HVAC system to bring air conditioning to all floors of all buildings, townshipwide by the end of 2024. 
  11. Transportation available for PMSA families for the first time in the school’s history.
  12. Advance manufacturing: metals, welding; students receive credentials to work in the industry, giving them necessary hands-on experience. 
  13. Launched “Parents on Patrol’ -an initiative that placed parents in our campus hallways.
  14. “Northbound Train to Greatness” newsletter offers insights and information on what’s happening in and around D209. 
  15. Robust Summer School Program for credit recovery and graduation goals.
  16. Communication Internship Program – Introducing students to the world of public relations. 
  17. New beautiful state of the art football stadium and NCAA compatible outdoor track at Proviso East.
  18. The Illinois State Seal of Biliteracy – presented at graduation in recognition of attaining a high level of proficiency in English and one or more additional languages. 

2. Dr. James Henderson has had both supporters and critics of his administration since his appointment as superintendent of Proviso Township High School. Please provide your opinion of the work he has dine at D209, including his relationship with faculty, his communications with parents and community, his management of a complex organization through a pandemic.

I believe anytime a superintendent comes into a new high school program there are significant challenges that he faces. Especially if one of them is underperforming. When a school is underperforming and on the state watch list a new superintendent has to make changes in order to close the trajectory as to where the school is headed. Those decisions are tough and sometimes unpopular but they are necessary to change the status of that school from underperforming to target. Which is extremely noticeable for a new superintendent. These are tough decisions to change structures and sometimes not popular within the community but have proven to be affective and successful under his tenure. When you review the accomplishments of the last two years overall it shows that his leadership has been good. Now I do believe there is room for improvement. I believe he could do a better job communicating with the community. and I know he is working to address it with the new newsletter that is going out weekly. 

The pandemic was tough for everyone. Every school district across the country. I believe Dr. Henderson’s leadership helped us through this pandemic. When you compare how our school faired through this pandemic compared to some schools across the country . Being able to keep our students academically progressing while overseeing a multi million dollar facility plan. I think that’s a notable accomplishment no matter how you look at it. Whether you are a supporter or a critic, I think that’s a notable accomplishment.

3. As a board member, how would you respond to complaints and protests brought by students concerned with their education?

To me, a students voice is of the utmost importance, this is the reason I am here, so my ultimate goal is to insure that I listen attentively to students and the community. If something is bothering our students I am and have always been approachable and have always had time to talk with a student and/or a parent. Our students know that I also support them. I support them by attending first day of school, Bring your Parent to School Day, athletic events, plays, NJROTC Ball, NJROTC Inspections and etc. Some even call me Mother Theresa because of my listening ear and compassion for all children. Students and parents have direct access to the board of Education members and they have direct access to the superintendent. 

4. Do you believe that the strike by teachers last year was unavoidable? How do you believe the district benefited the strike’s resolution? 

Yes, it absolutely could have and should have been avoided. They first said they would not strike and then later they said they were going to strike. Nobody wins in a teachers strike , in our case the students lost, the teachers lost, the administration lost, the community lost…there were no winners. I believe there could have been more transparency and in some cases, more honesty on both sides to the community as well as the union to their members. I believe if the numbers and facts were presented properly the strike would have been avoided. 

A positive is, a strike of any kind wakes people up and invigorates the community. Anytime you can have community involvement whether in agreement or not, it’ s a move towards the positive. Now it’s up to all the stakeholders to keep the attention of the community to move our District above and beyond minimal expectations …To greatness. 

5. If you are elected to what continues to be a divided school board, what skills would you bring to governing productively? 

Let me break the misconception that some people have. A divided board is not necessarily a bad thing. Abraham Lincoln had a team of rivals in his cabinet. sometimes you need differentiating opinions to help add balance to the board. 

I’n the end, we are working on one accord and we will continue to work for the betterment of the district. We’ve had several accomplishments over the last 2 years. I believe we can accomplish more as a team working for the community.