Most people familiar with Proviso Township High Schools District 209's history of patronage, corruption and rank incompetence will agree that the district as it exists now is not the district that we remember from just five years ago.
To argue that the upstart, largely grassroots Proviso Together candidates who, propelled by old-fashioned sweat and tears, secured a 7-person supermajority on the district's board a few years ago, have not engineered a significant cultural sea change in the district would be disingenuous and in bad faith.
Mysterious no-bid contracts given out with no oversight and accountability. A board up to its collective neck in pending lawsuits. Textbooks that didn't even merit the name. Buildings that hadn't seen any care and attention in 50 years. School environments that were outright hostile to alien forces such as … well, parents. Students, particularly young black boys, expelled at an unsettling clip.
Four years after the party first secured a grip on power and two years after it took full control over the board, there is a something of a verdict out on Together and it's solid.
The district now has an A+ bond rating to complement its once-in-a-lifetime plan for identifying the district's most pressing capital needs and what appears to be a sound financial strategy for addressing them. An equitable approach to funding the district's three campuses, which means that more money for East and West (where it's needed most) than for PMSA.
New textbooks. Laptops for all students. A deliberate strategy for including parents in students' school lives through the implementation of parent centers and parent coordinators at East and West. Innovative curricula, such as the pioneering Marzano Academy at Proviso East.
There are more concrete, measurable achievements that have taken place in D209 within the last four years than we have space enough to list. For that, Proviso Together's crop of candidates — sitting board members Theresa Kelly, Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina — earn our proud endorsement, as they have in the previous two election cycles.
Proviso United's Laighton Scott, Denard Wade and Beverly Robertson are all solid, grassroots candidates who have brought to the forefront some valid criticisms of the current board majority. Their most searing critique is the enduring inequity between PMSA, the district's magnet school, and East and West — despite the board's laudable work to address this inequity at the margins.
We feel that the current board, taken aback by public backlash, shied away from seriously evaluating the long-term feasibility of maintaining the converted office building that is PMSA's current campus. And the board has still not adequately confronted the toll that this PMSA/East-West demarcation takes on the students who don't attend the magnet school.
The Proviso United candidates — when not weighted down by the toxic negativity of their campaign's behind-the-scenes handlers — were at their best when deploying their unique insight as engaged, on-the-ground community members to some of the district's ongoing challenges.
Despite, at times, what appeared to be a rather glaring lack of preparation and engagement with some issues, particularly the district's finances, the Proviso United candidates (not the campaign) have nonetheless earned our respect. And we hope that they and Proviso Together can get over their differences and seriously address the challenges that were highlighted in this campaign season — for the sake of the students.
Sandy Aguirre, the only unaffiliated candidate in the race, was too emotionally charged, too woefully unprepared and too mysteriously close to the power players of D209's sordid past to earn our serious consideration.