There was a visible thematic balance in the Forest Park Middle School’s auditorium on Sunday. On one side hung a long, yellow poster with messages from students bidding “ciao,” “adios” and “adieu” to the district’s superintendent for the last seven years. On the other side, an almost identical poster touted congenial wishes to his replacement.
On Sunday afternoon, families gathered at the middle school for a chance to meet the new District 91 superintendent, Dr. Lou Cavallo, and to say goodbye to the current superintendent Dr. Randy Tinder, who after seven years in District 91 is retiring. He will continue as president of the Illinois Association of School Administration.
“The experience has gone by so fast,” Tinder said. “It’s been so amazing. I’ve been fortunate to be the superintendent in three areas of the state for 24 years, and Forest Park is certainly unlike other places, but it’s exactly the same in other ways.”
While his tenure may have flown by, Tinder did not fail to repair and improve certain elements in District 91. Tinder joined the district during a period when there were many issues for the board to deal with, including budget shortfalls and infrastructure needs. Mary Ann Spratt, the superintendent’s administrative assistant since 1991, can remember the deficiencies the district struggled with and hoped to remedy by bringing in Tinder.
“When he came in as superintendent in 2000, the district was lacking in technology,” Spratt said. “His experience with technology moved us forward rapidly. He was also part of instituting the all-day kindergarten classes across the district. Parents really appreciated that.”
Steve Johnson, a former board member, said that when Tinder first started as the superintendent, he wasted no time getting his feet wet.
“We were in the middle of doing remodel jobs on two school buildings or expansions,” Johnson said. “Randy came in and finished those up nicely. He reduced classroom sizes to 20 or less across the district and spearheaded a referendum that created funding to keep the classrooms at 20. Thanks to Randy, today, we are very well-funded.”
Tinder agreed that the referendum was an important step, and said it may have been his greatest accomplishment.
“I feel best that we got the support of the community for the referendum,” Tinder said. “We had a $2.5 million deficit and we were eating into reserves. We started that referendum process right away. We spread solid info across the community, and it turned out well.”
But for the newly hired Cavallo, there are still some serious issues to address. His stint in Forest Park will be Cavallo’s first as a district superintendent. Most recently he served as a middle school principal.
Cavallo has identified the achievement gap between white and minority students as the most pressing issue in the district. Standardized test results from 2006 revealed that black and Latino children are falling behind when compared to their white classmates.
“I think the first priorities are closing the achievement gap and looking at the curriculum and doing some work at ensuring that we are aligned with Illinois learning standards,” Cavallo said. “Some achievement issues need to be addressed.”
Johnsen and longtime board member Lois Bugajsky said that disciplinary issues, particularly at the middle school, should be included in the new superintendent’s list of priorities.
“Perception is reality,” Cavallo said, “and there is a perception that the middle school is out of control and needs discipline. I will be working with the middle school especially on behavioral programming. I will be quick to add, though, that the issues being said about the middle school are universal. When kids get to middle school, they behave differently. What’s going on in the middle school is not out of the ordinary, but it is something we intend to address.”
Since getting the nod from board members to be the next superintendent, Cavallo has been visiting the District 91 schools at least once a month, meeting with teachers and staff and having dinner with Tinder as often as possible. Cavallo’s official start date is July 1.
In some ways, Sunday’s open house event brought Tinder’s experience in Forest Park full circle.
“The students had banners for me when I first came and I still have those,” Tinder said. “Now I am getting cards and those will go in the same memory boxes as before. Forest Park is a much more diverse area than I’ve ever worked in and I’ve enjoyed that. It makes it a special, warm place. I’ll certainly cherish all the memories.”