It is gearing up to be a fierce campaign for the three open seats on the Proviso Township High School District 209 school board in the April 4 election. Following a year of controversy, the Proviso Excels slate hopes to reach voters with the promises of open communication and reinstatement of accountability, something both candidates say currently lacks on the school board.

Claudia Medina

Claudia Medina, an incumbent, is seeking reelection during this year’s election. Medina, who owns Bilingual Montessori Lab Academy in Forest Park, has dedicated her life to education, with a Masters in Elementary Education as well as serving as a professor for Montessori teacher training. Serving on the Proviso board since 2015, Medina had a hand in the financial restructuring of D209 under former Superintendent Dr. Jesse Rodriguez and has served on various committees. 

Currently, Medina hopes for another term to continue to advocate for the Proviso community amidst what has been a polarizing few years. Despite the lack of unity on the current board, Medina believes the district holds a special place for many. 

“Proviso is a family, it is not an institution and once you become part of Proviso, everybody knows each other and it is a tight knit and warm community,” Medina said, adding that Proviso is a district with very dedicated staff which is trying to survive with the resources given. 

Medina is a vocal advocate for teachers, standing by them during the teacher strike in 2022. Under the current board majority, Medina said teachers have seen their working conditions worsen, causing a shortage of teachers at the schools. 

“The teachers are struggling, and we are hemorrhaging teachers right now,” Medina said, adding that the district does not have enough teachers to cover all classes, leaving many students without options besides remedial classes. Additionally, Medina said remaining teachers have seen their class sizes increased to an unmanageable number, 35 students per teacher.

Medina, who was the first Latina elected to the board, said it is important to have leaders who care, are involved, and advocate proactively for families and students to not only feel safe at school but also in the community, adding she has worked to make Proviso a safe environment for all immigrant and refugee communities. 

To move the district forward, Medina would support a current equity study for the district to know the needs of the community and how to better serve families. Two programs which have fallen out of compliance and need attention are ESL and the Special Education program, said Medina, who calls for an increase in translation services to better serve the 30 percent of parents in the district who don’t speak English. 

On top of a lack of communication, the current administration structure leaves more to be desired, said Medina. 

“Our administrative structure needs to be changed as well,” Medina said. “Dr. [James] Henderson has a tendency of switching jobs around so much, nobody knows who to go to and when. We don’t have a good communication system. We have had issues with phones. Parents don’t know where to go, who to go to, who addresses this or the other.”

The removal of deans, counselors, and mental health services is weighing strongly on the Proviso community, said Medina, who believes the current board is functioning as a “dictatorial” regime that does not allow for open conversation. 

“When people come to talk to the board there is a lot of hostility, a lot of shut down, people don’t listen, there is a lot of denying that things are happening” Medina said. “When people come to us it’s because they are desperate, and they want answers. The superintendent has a tendency of not answering questions and quite frankly that includes board members. If you are not part of his ‘Henderson Five,’ he has five board members he communicates to and two he does not.” 

“Leadership with integrity,” is what Medina hopes will be in the future of the board after this election as she believes the current board majority is not welcoming to teachers or community input. 

As part of her campaign, Medina is running on the promise of requiring an annual superintendent evaluation, fair teacher, support and staff contracts, as well as resolving safety and transportation issues. Additionally, a big issue facing the district is the lack of financial transparency, said Medina, adding the district currently does not have a finance committee, making it hard to have accountability on spending.

Jon Kubricht

Jon Kubricht, who first was going to serve as Medina’s campaign manager, is now her slate mate, hoping to bring his strong finance background to the school board. A resident of Forest Park, Kubricht said he noticed after analyzing the candidates that the district was in need of strong financial guidance. 

“I feel like I would be a good balance to educators, to parents,” Kubricht said. “You need to round up the board with a lot of different skill sets and I think my skill set is missing.” 

For Kubricht, the biggest concern facing the district at the moment is the low amount of money currently being spent per student. Not only is this directly affecting students’ quality of education as programs and departments have been defunded or completely cut, but Kubricht, who does not have children in the district, also believes that it directly affects Proviso Township taxpayers as well. 

“All the communities in Proviso township, the quality of the high school education directly affects their property values. The better quality of education we are able to give means people are going to stay here longer,” Kubricht said. “Education makes people want to stay here, makes people want to buy here, which then in turn gives us a stronger and solid tax base to continue to fund education and everything else within our district.”

Not impressed with the way the current board operates, Kubricht is a vocal critic of the current board majority and Supt. Henderson, who he believes has created a situation of chaos with cuts in staff, programs, and the mismanagement of finances and spending. 

“The current superintendent tries to create a situation where chaos happens on a daily basis and nobody knows what to do, how to correct it, who to talk to, and chaos rules,” Kubricht said. “I think he does that intentionally, so nobody knows what is going on.” 

Open lines of communication with other board members, students, staff, and parents are beneficial to all, said Kubricht, saying that if elected he will use those moments as a learning opportunity for him as well. Additionally, Kubricht takes a strong position in knowing the value of the teachers at Proviso. 

“Teachers need to be respected and appreciated by the board,” Kubricht said, adding they should have received a fair contract from Henderson from the beginning. “Fair contract, appreciativeness, and responsiveness from the administration is what is needed to give teachers the adequate support they deserve, and our students deserve that as well.” 

By addressing the needs of faculty and students, Kubricht is convinced Proviso Township would become a district able to attract strong educators, rather than having teachers flee. Kubricht said he admires the educators who have stayed amidst the chaos and taken on bigger roles in the lives of their students. 

“They have done a phenomenal job at stretching the limits of the resources the superintendent is currently giving them,” Kubricht said, praising recent musical performances. “The teachers have really stepped it up in filling in the gaps in what has been taken away. A lot of the stuff they are doing at this point is not stuff that would normally fall under the responsibilities of a teacher. They are not getting the appreciation that they should be.” 

If the district has any hope of turning over a new leaf, Kubricht and Medina say a new board majority is crucial. 

“We really need to change the vote count on the board so that the ‘Henderson 5’ no longer rubber stamps everything the superintendent decides and that we can actually make decisions that benefit the students and bring the school back to where it really should be from an educational standpoint,” Kubricht said. “Regardless of whether people support me or my running mate, I do hope everybody will get out and vote on April 4. It is a crucial election, and we need three good people in there that are not connected to the Henderson regime.” 

Early voting in the April 4 Consolidated Election began on Monday, March 20 and will continue through April 3. 

D209 candidate debate

Candidates for the District 209 Proviso Township High Schools board will meet in a debate on March 27 at 6:30 p.m. Sponsored by the group Best of Proviso it will be held at the Westchester Library, 10700 Canterbury St.

Next week

Forest Park Review will continue its profiles of candidates for the District 209 high school board.