At a special meeting on Aug. 11, the school board at Proviso Township High School District 209 appointed an acting superintendent to replace Supt. James Henderson who announced his resignation in a letter on Aug. 9.
The board chose Dr. Bessie Karvelas, a longtime district administrator, as acting superintendent. Karvelas has had multiple roles in the district and most recently was serving as principal at Proviso West High School.
In a statement on the district’s website, Amanda Grant, board president, thanked Karvelas “for stepping up during this challenging time.” The board has said that having an acting superintendent would allow it time to vet either an interim or permanent superintendent.
Closing out a contentious three years as head of the troubled district, Henderson struck a conciliatory tone in his resignation letter to the Proviso community.
“I want to let you know how much I appreciate our time together over the past three years,” wrote Henderson. He thanked administrators, teachers and instructional staff for their commitment to the Proviso community.
Grant, president of the D209 school board, last week told the Village Free Press, “It is time for District 209 to go in a new direction. We are working diligently behind the scenes to make sure we have a great start to our school year. We have all the necessary support for students and staff in place.”
Henderson joined the district in August 2020 after serving two years as superintendent in Holmes County, Mississippi. Henderson was welcomed to the district by the board of education with a three-year contract and a salary of $250,000.
A year later, in June 2021, a five-year contract — and a salary increase of $12,500 — was approved by a board that was beginning to fracture, with board members Amanda Grant and Claudia Medina voting against the item. The new contract also came with an undisclosed pension contribution, coverage of annual health premiums in the amount of $32,129, and a $6,000 per year contribution to his vehicle allowance among other benefits.
During his time as superintendent, Henderson faced growing scrutiny from members of the community, faculty and staff as well as a portion of the school board.
In June 2022, the board of education, at the time consisting of then president Arbdella Patterson, Theresa Kelly, Rodney Alexander, Sam Valtierrez, Ned Wagner, Amanda Grant, and Claudia Medina, approved a third contract for Henderson by a vote of 4-2, with Grant and Wagner voting against the item. Medina was absent from the meeting.
Despite the new contract, Henderson faced deeper questions from members of the community as well as board members who began questioning the financial state of the district as well as the friction caused by the 2022 teachers strike.
In a Letter to the Editor of the Forest Park Review published on March 14, 2023, then board member Grant expressed her concerns about how Henderson and other board members handled financial matters.
“Additionally, tens of thousands of dollars are spent on district credit cards each month with no transparency or accountability of these charges,” Grant wrote.
Following the teachers strike in 2022, when approximately 280 members of the Proviso Teachers Union went on strike to negotiate better wages and work conditions under their collective bargaining agreement, many called for Henderson’s removal from his post.
Despite facing criticism, Henderson seemed to have nearly unconditional support from the so-called “Henderson Five,” which was composed of five board members: Patterson, Alexander, Wagner, Kelly and Valtierrez.
However, Henderson lost that majority vote during the April 4 Consolidated Election when three new board members were voted onto the board replacing Kelly and taking over Wagner’s empty seat. Medina, who had openly criticized Henderson and was involved in a heated incident with Henderson in March 2022, also lost her seat on the board as three newcomers, David Ocampo, Sandra Hixson, and Jennifer Barbahen’s Proviso 209 United slate made it a clean sweep, overturning the board majority and dismantling the “Henderson Five.”
The slate mates had been vocal in expressing a desperate need for new leadership that would hold Henderson accountable in hopes of fixing issues plaguing the three high schools in the district.
Transparency over fiscal matters was a top priority, Ocampo said in a previous interview back in May.
Upon the swearing in of the new board, Grant became the board president and began reinstating the use of committees, which Henderson allegedly had a hand in dismantling.
In a May 2023 interview, Ocampo said the new board members would be willing to work with Henderson but that the quality of that relationship would ultimately fall on Henderson himself.
“We are going to put forth a goal list and you can plan for everything but if no one executes against it, then something needs to change,” Ocampo had said. “The board needs to set the standard.”
In his resignation letter, Henderson thanked the “Henderson Five,” saying “we got the work done because of you.”
In June 2023, the board of education conducted the first superintendent evaluation since Henderson was hired back in 2020. That evaluation came during a closed session. Due to it being personnel matter the evaluation was not made public. Grant said she was unable to comment on the matter.
“Most of you worked to educate our scholars,” Henderson wrote in his resignation letter. “Thank you for all you’ve done — and all you’ll continue to do — to help the students of District 209 graduate prepared to succeed in a global community.”
Additionally, Henderson thanked the food service staff, transportation, maintenance, safety and security staff, central office staff, and his executive leadership team composed of Dr. Sharon Williams, L.T. Taylor, Luke Pavone, Leonard Moody, Calvin Davis, and Kristi Vandenbroak.
“I couldn’t have done this without you,” Henderson wrote.
“Thank you for your help, your efforts and your steadfastness,” wrote Henderson, closing off his farewell letter to Proviso. “I wish you nothing but the best.”
Henderson was not able to be reached for comment.