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.
Name: Sandra Joseph-Hixson
Previous Political Experience: Former Bellwood School District 88 BOE Member
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Former Bellwood Youth Commissioner; Vice-President of Bellwood’s United Way; Bellwood Community Fair Former President; Glen Ellyn Chapter Delta Sorority
1. Please describe what, in your opinion, have been specific accomplishments made by District 209 over the past two years.
In my opinion, the District has made some headway in bringing the PMSA programs into East and West. They have continued programs our students are interested in, cosmetology/barber programs. They have also made gains in the areas of construction by following through on the five-year Master Plan Dr. Rodriquez started for all three schools.
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 done at D209, including his relationship with faculty, his communications with parents and the community, and his management of a complex organization through a pandemic.
Dr. Henderson was hired with the hope that he would be able to continue the progress and pathways set by the prior administration. He was hired and then the pandemic hit, not an ideal situation, for anyone. But the pandemic is not an excuse for the failure to create thriving relationships with staff. It is part of the duties he was hired to perform.
Dr. Henderson’s relationships with staff have proven to be difficult and at times contentious. One of the most important things an organization can do for its employees is to make them feel valued. Superintendents must be evaluated properly per board and state policy. Through evaluation and coaching, the board can determine whether our one employee is able to make any needed behavioral changes to ensure we’re able to move relationships and this district forward.
His management of a complex organization through a pandemic.
The pandemic would have been an ideal time for him to take the time to establish relationships with all stakeholders and evaluate our processes. Instead, he chose to use that time to “restructure” key areas without proper evaluations and audits. This created huge gaps in key areas that students needed to be successful like food services, Technology, SPED, ELL services, etc. These areas have continued to suffer. We must remember that when systems suffer, our students suffer. I believe that Dr. Henderson has not shown that he has been effective in the management of our organization through the pandemic and beyond.
Dr. Henderson’s communications with parents and the community
As a former employee and through my connections within the community, I began to hear from many disgruntled parents and people in the community. They spoke of the chaos, lack of communication, and divisiveness they were experiencing from the administration. In my opinion, I thought it was perhaps his management style that seemed a bit abrasive, the parents and taxpayers were concerned.
I met with Dr. Henderson in an informal setting, as a taxpayer and a former employee of D209, during his first year as superintendent. After our conversation, I became concerned about his ability to create a positive and enriching educational and work environment. However, I understood that one conversation is not enough to evaluate someone’s intentions and ability. Gradually as time went on, I noticed that we, as a community, needed to do something, this was not the time to lose communication with our community, it was not the time to cut off our community partners and trusted allies to the district. I didn’t see the organization and attention to student needs that the times demanded. Dr. Henderson removed valuable resources from students and made draconian cuts that deeply impacted our students’ access to their education and the school district’s basic functions. Some could say those items could have cost savings but without a firm plan on replacement sources and added pressure to an already pressed staff has proven difficult these last few years.
3. As a board member, how would you respond to complaints and protests brought by students concerned with their education?
Unfortunately, having a disgruntled parent screaming to you is a painful experience. As a previous board member for a school district, I have listened to the parent’s concerns regarding their student and had to develop an action plan to help them find a solution. We realize currently, we need to rebuild trust with our community. One of the things we did on my previous board was to designate the first Saturday of the month as a forum for students, parents, and the community to work on resolutions to enrich the educational growth of our students. After each meeting, we discussed our strengths and weaknesses and created a plan to tackle them.
4. Do you believe that the strike by teachers last year was unavoidable? How do you believe the district benefited by the strike’s resolution?
I believe the strike could have been averted. The teachers did not want to strike. The issue of not having any sitting board member on the negotiating team, to me is unheard of. Unfortunately, our students were deeply impacted by the strike. Learning loss and stress, along with a scramble to get them prepared and out the door for graduating seniors was nothing short of a travesty. Conditions where we are facing a teacher shortage and our district was not more prepared to attract and retain good teachers make it hard to see a benefit to the taxpayers or to the quality of the student’s educational opportunities within the district.
5. If you are elected to what continues to be a divided school board, what skills would you bring to governing productively?
It always comes back to the students and protecting our investment, being focused on the task at hand through management conflict resolutions, previous board experience, and understanding of what’s at stake; the student’s educational success. I can be calm in the face of adversity. During my time as an educator, and with my board experience, I know how important it is to focus on the work, not on personalities. I understand the board process and the need to not waste public time. Accountability and integrity to the process are extremely important to me. My ability to be an active listener and knowing when it’s time to do the work and when it’s time to move on will be key.