New elected board members Sandra Hixson, Jennifer Barbahen, and David Ocampo were sworn into the Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education on May 4, 2023

A standing ovation and roars of applause accompanied the three newest members of the Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education as they made their way to the podium to be sworn into their seats, bringing with them pledges of a breath of fresh air and hope for the Proviso community. 

During a May 4 special meeting of the school board, held at Proviso Math and Science Academy, 8601 Roosevelt Rd., Forest Park, newcomers David Ocampo, Sandra Hixson, and Jennifer Barbahen took their oath of office, pledging to keep the taxpayers and students’ best interest at heart in front of a packed room of residents and community members who hope the slate mates and help restore the district. 

Hixson, who received the second largest number of votes during the April 4 Consolidated Election thanked the community for its support and vote of confidence, also hoping to encourage those to go after what others might deem impossible. 

“The more bricks they put on your back, the tougher your back must become,” said Hixson to an applauding audience.

Barbahen, who remained in a tight race against incumbent Theresa Kelly until the certified results were released on April 25, thanked everyone who was a supporter of the Proviso 209 United slate and shared in the vision of moving the district forward, saying she was “ready to respectfully serve.” Barbahen won the third open seat on the board with a 12-vote margin. 

Kelly was not in attendance during Thursday’s reorganization of the board. 

As the new members took their seats, Arbdella Patterson, who was serving as the board president, called for the nomination of a new president, who will serve a one-year term. Met with a roar of applause from the audience, Amanda Grant was nominated by Hixson and received a unanimous vote of approval from the board. 

“It’s a new day Proviso, it’s a new day,” exclaimed a member of the audience. 

Two members of the HBO slate also accepted nominations and will begin their time on the board with additional responsibilities. Ocampo will serve as vice president and Barbahen will serve as secretary. 

Samuel Valtierrez, who had served as board secretary for the past year, declined the nomination from Ocampo to remain in the position, telling the Forest Park Review he was ready to dedicate more time to his family, work, and his outside responsibilities. 

During her first few minutes as board president, Grant addressed the audience, proclaiming “better things are on the way for District 209.” 

“We will be focused on repairing relationships, rebuilding trust, and reclaiming the path to a brighter future and quality of education,” said Grant, barely audible over the applause. “You will see a lot of changes coming very soon.” 

Setting the schedule for next year’s board meetings, the change was seen immediately, as the board will now meet twice a month for the next year: one regular board meeting and the other solely dedicated to community concerns, a huge shift from past meetings where public comments were held towards the end of the hours long meetings of the board, subsequently limiting public participation. 

“The second one will be dedicated, for the first few months at least, to hearing the backlog of arbitrations and grievances that we have…,” said Grant. “Once we have caught up on the concerns from the students, parents and staff of this district, we will start a round of meetings that are more community focused.”

Locations for these meetings will be rotated, ensuring the board is able to make their way throughout Proviso Township and giving access to citizen comments and citizen engagement. 

“For many, many years, what I have heard from people is that they just want to have a chance for us to listen,” Grant said. 

Grant, who has publicly criticized Superintendent James Henderson for his hand in doing away with committees, also revealed they will be reinstating board committees. 

Valtierrez will serve as the chair for the facilities committee, Barbahen will serve as the chair of the parent and community engagement committee, Hixson will serve as the chair of the policy committee, and Ocampo will serve as the chair of the finance committee. 

“I am a big advocate of board committees. I believe it is one of the many windows we can possibly offer to the public,” Grant said. “All board committees are open to the public and I am not just asking you, I am begging you, show up and participate.” 

To engage and encourage citizen participation, Grant announced the establishment of a new committee, the Proviso Community Cooperation committee, made up of citizens to help serve as watchdogs on the district and the board, but also as advocates for students. The committee will be open to students, parents, and community members regardless of experience. 

“I think it has been shown that where the community has a will there’s definitely a way,” Grant said. “Each year I have seen this community get stronger and stronger and stronger and when we work together that is when we get a school district that our children deserve.” 

Public comment during the meeting was welcome, with many taking to the podium to thank past serving board members as well as welcoming the fresh new faces. While the praises were high and the feeling of hope for a better future filled the room, many also expressed the need to hold the new board accountable in order for history to not be repeated. 

Jarrell David, a 15-year-old freshman at PMSA, encouraged the new board to remember who they are serving and who they need to fight for, the students. 

“The student body was broken down, abused, and upset and we was mad as hell,” David said. “We were tired of seeing qualified teachers get dragged through the mud because elected officials couldn’t check their ego.”  

David, who served as the first student board member at Lindop School District 92, said the community needs to hold the board accountable. 

“The problem in minority communities today is that we don’t stay mad long enough,” David said. “We let them do what they want to do and we say ‘OK.’ It is time that we hold elected officials accountable.” 

Proviso West teacher Carissa Gillespie expressed her love for the district as a product of Proviso herself. 

“I am so glad tonight that we have a chance for change,” said Gillespie. 

The next Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 16. For more information on time and location, as meetings rotate across the three Proviso campuses, visit the district website.