The start of the 2023-24 school year is not far away and with that in mind, Amanda Grant, president of the board of education for Proviso High School Township District 209 is hoping this year can start off on a better foot than those prior.
“The priorities for the upcoming school year are really just making sure it runs as smoothly as possible,” Grant said. “We want to make sure we are giving our students and staff the resources they need for success.”
Grant, who became board president this year, is working alongside the rest of the board, including three new members: David Ocampo, Sandra Hixson and Jennifer Barbahen, better known as the HBO slate who managed a clean sweep during the April 4 election. They are working to pinpoint the areas that need immediate attention and start addressing them.
“We are not looking to do anything huge,” Grant said. “But we are looking into doing the things we must do and do them well.”
“This year, these 11 months or however long I have left in this particular role, I am focused on repairing,” Grant said. “Repairing our relationships, repairing systems that we know worked. I am focused on rebuilding. That is what I am trying to do. I am not looking to do ginormous changes this year because I feel like, in so many ways, we are bleeding and I want to stop the bleeding.”
Grant talked about the separate roles of the school board and the district superintendent, James L. Henderson. “We can only say what to do, it is up to the superintendent and the staff to make it happen,” Grant said.
Supt. James L. Henderson did not respond to requests for comments.
A big topic of discussion at the moment is scheduling, Grant said.
With her own child attending Proviso West High School, 4701 Harrison St., Hillside., last year as a freshman, she experienced scheduling issues firsthand. And while her son’s issue was resolved, Grant wondered if it was an easy fix or if it was due to her position on the school board.
“That is something to always struggle with,” Grant said. “I don’t want my kids to have special treatment and in a situation like that … I know some students had a lot of difficulties.”
It was four weeks after school started during “Take Your Parent to School” day that Grant once again saw how badly scheduling had fallen through the cracks, with some students being assigned to a room, not a class, with no instructors or supervision and left to fend for themselves.
“How does that happen?” asked Grant. “That was a very contentious point last year.”
While Grant recognizes the role of a master scheduler, who is responsible for creating students schedules and navigating all state and district requirements, is incredibly difficult, she said it is important to have people who are highly skilled and properly trained to ensure schedules are done correctly. Grant said she is aware that training is underway or will begin soon for staff to ensure they know how to properly run programs and help parents through the registration process.
The board is also hoping to see what a fully staffed plan for each building looks like, including its impact on the budget.
“There are lots of things that I would like to fix but it is like an emergency room, ‘what is the biggest emergency?’” Grant said. “We want to make sure we have a fully staffed building, that we have the teachers we need.”
Grant said the board is currently waiting for information regarding current staffing numbers and how close they are to that goal of being fully staffed.
During the June 13 school board meeting, security staff along with staff from nutrition services spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and expressed concerns about understaffing.
While the district does not outsource its security to a third-party company, Grant stressed the importance of having a fully trained and trusted security staff to not only ensure students physical safety but she also views them as an additional connection with students, building familiar relationships with them and playing a larger role than just stopping fights.
“I always feel so grateful about how much they care for the kids. They are a link,” Grant said. “It’s not security because people are doing something bad. It’s security to make sure things go well. This is another layer of support for kids.”
Grant said they also hope to look at staffing for special education classrooms as well as English Language Learner classrooms, services the district is required to provide.
Last year, Proviso families experienced transportation issues beyond the national bus driver shortage being experienced across the country. Previous reports by Forest Park Review said students, parents, and teachers attended a nearly four-hour long board meeting on Sept. 13, 2022, to express their frustrations and demand answers.
According to Grant, the district received second priority from the First Student school bus company, having their students picked up after the first routes for other districts were completed, due to Henderson taking too long to sign the contract, which was signed the day before school began.
Previous reports said that students were arriving late, missing their first period class, and having to sit on the floor of buses that were at full capacity.
“We cannot continue on like that, we really just can’t,” Grant said. “We either provide transportation and we do it correctly or we can’t do it.
With school starting after Labor Day, Grant said they hope to find a solution as soon as possible and said they are currently looking into it but that she could not comment any further at this time.
While the board looks ahead into planning for 2023-24, Grant said changes implemented during their board meetings, especially those opening up the lines of communication, including the reestablishment of committees and moving public comment earlier part during board meetings, have already given way to positive changes and begun repairing trust between the district and the Proviso community.
The next board meeting of the Proviso Township High School Board of Education will be held on July 11 at 7 p.m. at Proviso Math and Science Academy, 8601 Roosevelt Rd, Forest Park.