In the bad old days, many families used to flee Forest Park when their children reached high school, because they didn’t want to send them to Proviso East or pay private tuition. This drained Forest Park of many good families and community leaders.

Last year, the bleeding seemed to stop with the opening of the Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy. Finally, we had a viable public alternative to Proviso East. But, what’s going on this year? Is the academy turning into “Proviso Central” or simply suffering a sophomore slump?

Some growing pains are natural, of course, as the student body doubled in size with the new class of freshmen. The academy was not able to fill all of these new teaching positions and started the year with a number of substitute teachers. This disturbed some parents, already disheartened by the departure of the academy’s program director and one of its teachers.

To add to the soap opera, the academy’s co-principal, Richard Bryant, was suspended for unspecified reasons. Bryant, the director of teaching and learning, had been the “face” of the academy to many parents. His position has been taken over by his co-principal Mel Berry. Adding to the flux and confusion was the decision to change the school’s starting time, which reportedly was needed so that students could participate in sports.

So, an emergency meeting was called to address these changes. On very short notice, a large number of parents and students made their way to the school auditorium for the meeting. The academy’s brand new superintendent, Stanley Fields addressed them. Fields apologized for the snafus but said he was invested in the success of the academy.

Mel Barry noted the academy’s parent teacher organization has more than 200 members and reiterated his commitment to success, despite some financial shortfalls. He noted that $2,000 was collected to hire a professional fund-raiser to arrange a golf outing and walk-a-thon in the spring. They hoped to raise $50,000 to $70,000 for the academy’s operating deficit.

I had often heard of fund-raising proposals at private schools but rarely at a public school. The way I understood it, the school needed $12 million to operate but only had $6 million in the bank.

The emergency meeting dragged on for more than an hour, with very little content to sustain it. Finally, one father stood up and questioned whether the meeting was a waste of time.

Since then, parents have learned that full-time teachers have filled all but one of the academy’s positions. Perhaps the academy is recovering from its sophomore slump. Maybe Dr. Fields can turn it around. Still, it alarms some parents that the original architects of the school are no longer at the helm.

One thing is for certain: the academy must remain a distinct alternative to Proviso East and Proviso West. It must be the standard bearer for the district. Otherwise, Forest Park will slip back into bad old days and the brain drain will resume.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.