It took a while for the final votes to be counted in what turned out to be a very close race for the third and final seat on the District 209 Proviso Township School Board. In the end, the mail-in votes brought an exceedingly narrow win — 12 votes — for Jennifer Barbahen over incumbent Theresa Kelly.
With thanks to Ms. Kelly for her decades of service, we are elated to see the balance of power on this critical board shift back to a reform-minded majority focused on students.
Barbahen will join her Proviso 209 United colleagues, David Ocampo and Sandra Hixon in being sworn into office this week. The full expectation is that they will most always align with Amanda Grant, a holdover board member, to form a new majority. The three other board members — Arbdella Patterson, Rodney Alexander and Samuel Valtierrez — will need to decide if obstruction is their path or if they are ready to step away from the division and distraction they have nurtured in this troubled school district.
In a thoughtful interview this week with the Review’s Amaris Rodriguez, Ocampo talks about priorities he has in mind as he undertakes this very challenging post. Regaining control and transparency over district finances is critical, he said. This district has money in the bank but setting student-centered goals for spending is essential, he added. And creating accountability for rogue superintendent James Henderson will underlie all decisions.
Typically we’d say a new board needs to take some time to get a sense of the complexity of the issues and assess the strengths and weaknesses of its single employee, the superintendent. When the last reform board was elected eight years ago, it gave its middling superintendent some months to make her case and then welcomed her decision to depart after that first school year.
Henderson though is another disturbing case altogether. The man is radioactive. He has disregarded students, gleefully alienated teachers, taken advantage of a supplicant school board and made a range of dubious choices in a number of operational areas — transportation, IT, and food services come to mind — that were not only wrong but also suspect.
The man is a grifter and he needs to get the boot as quickly as an inevitably lucrative buyout can be negotiated. By July 1, an interim superintendent needs to be in place. That is the essential change this new board needs to make so that it can begin what will be a slow, slow reclamation of a school district that is now failing in so many ways.
Out of chaos comes opportunity. This district has been led into near total chaos by Henderson and the outgoing board.
Time to find the opportunities a fresh start can provide our children.