RBTV has a new leader, and he’s very experienced and appears highly qualified. On July 11, the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 approved the hiring of Matthew Holdren to replace Gary Prokes, who abruptly retired in June after leading RBTV for 37 years.
Holdren, 43, has taught at Homewood Flossmoor High School for the past 15 years. He has been an English teacher who also taught classes in film and broadcast news. Unlike Prokes, he is a certified teacher and also has industry-based certification. He holds two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education.
“I like school,” Holdren told the Landmark in a telephone interview last week.
Holdren will be paid $110,380, more than the $94,301.25 that Prokes made last year. He will teach all the television classes at RBHS next year.
A native of Chicago Heights, Holdren was interested in film and video from an early age. As an adolescent, he and friend would record themselves on VHS, reenacting “Saturday Night Live” skits. He earned his first bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies from Northern Illinois University.
While starting his career in media and film, he began substitute teaching at Homewood-Flossmoor and discovered that he loved teaching, so he earned a second bachelor’s degree in English from Governors State University.
He also earned a master’s degree from NIU in communication and media studies where he specialized in documentary filmmaking as well as a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration before getting his doctorate in education from NIU in 2011.
“I was able to marry those two loves of teaching and media production,” Holdren said. “I love teaching just as much as I love creating content.”
Holdren began the film program at Homewood-Flossmoor and is still an active cinematographer. In 2015, he co-founded and is the CEO of a small wedding film company, Matthew Robert Creative.
Holdren said that he is excited to be taking over RBTV.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to take over a historic program like RBTV, so for me it’s an opportunity to take the next step in my career,” Holdren said.
He was picked from a field of 15 candidates, three of whom were interviewed. RBTV’s reputation drew interest from Holdren and other applicants.
“This isn’t just any old broadcasting job,” said Kylie Lindquist, the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at RBHS. “RBTV is something that’s very well-known and that’s what enabled us to attract someone to want to come over.”
Lindquist was relieved that a candidate of Holdren’s experience and talent applied for the job.
“When I heard of Gary’s [retirement] I was terrified, because it was such a rare certification,” Lindquist said.
Homewood-Flossmoor has a strong broadcast program, with alumni including White Sox television broadcaster Jason Benetti, sports radio talk show host Laurence Holmes and television newscaster Ben Bradley.
It has state-of-the-art studio and production facilities that cost between $3 and $4 million a decade ago.
“We had a lot of success at HF,” Holdren said. “We compete in the MMEA (Midwest Media Educators Association) and I’ve been able to teach a lot of students who have won a lot of first place trophies in things like documentaries, music videos, trailers and then we’ve also won quite a few for news programming as well.”
But Holdren, who also served for two years the chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Homewood-Flossmoor, did not lead the Homewood-Flossmoor TV program, so he was attracted to the RBTV position.
“He was interested in making the move to take over a station,” Lindquist said.
Although Holdren did not teach Benetti, Bradley or Holmes, he did teach Jarad Higgins who went on to great fame as hip-hop artist Juice WRLD, who died of a drug overdose in 2019.
Holdren said that he is excited to succeed Prokes but will cut his own path.
“He’s definitely a legend, he will continue to be a legend and will continue to be remembered and revered by me going forward,” Holdren said. “Everyone will know who he was and what he did for that program, but I plan on, hopefully, blazing my own trail there that in 15 or 20 years, when I leave, someone else can come in and speak as highly about me as everyone does about Gary.”
Holdren was interviewed by a team of administrators and department chairs.
“We kind of hit it off right away,” Holdren said. “I think they kind of understood my vision of what media should look like at the high school level.”
He said he wants to build upon the foundation that Prokes built.
“I’m really excited to get there and take RB to a place it’s never been,” Holdren said. “I want us to compete at the local, state and national level with our projects, and I want to make sure students are leaving there with the ability to not only go to college, but if they want to just jump into L.A. and start their movie career, I want to make sure they’re ready to do that as well.”