Over the next three years at District 91, administrators and school board members intend to create computer labs in every building, hire enough teachers to ensure class sizes are capped at 20 students and revise the district’s entire curriculum starting this year with the reading programs.
Those goals were laid out in detail at a Nov. 8 school board meeting and Superintendent Lou Cavallo emphasized that changes made to the various disciplines–reading, math and science–will be the single most important effort in the coming years. All other objectives in the way of technology improvements, staff recruiting and managing class sizes are critical, Cavallo said, but are there to supplement the foundation of student learning.
“Our curriculum has not been revised in several years,” Cavallo said. “This is a process that will take some time. We can’t do it all at once. We can’t do it all at once financially.”
Attached to a list of seven goals that make up the school district’s strategic plan was a loose spending guide to give board members an idea of what it might take, fiscally, to move those projects forward. To no one’s surprise the big ticket item on the list is staffing, with an estimated $5 million to $5.5 million needed each year to help keep class sizes down.
In hiring new teachers Cavallo said the emphasis will be two-fold. Not only will the district commit to maintaining smaller classes, but administrators expect to hire more minorities to fill those positions in an effort to address a performance gap that exists between white and minority students. For several years in Forest Park white students have outperformed their black and Hispanic classmates on high stakes exams, in some cases by considerable margins. The district’s attendance at job fairs and online recruiting efforts will target those areas in Illinois and the U.S. where there is a larger minority population to draw from, Cavallo said.
According to the 2007 district report card released by the State Board of Education, nearly 49 percent of Forest Park’s K-8 students are black. Fewer than 3 percent of the teachers in the district are black and roughly 1 percent are Hispanic.
Revising the curriculum will likely be another expensive undertaking and Business Manager Ed Brophy anticipates some $90,000 will be needed each year for new materials and staff training.
Brophy, who was brought into the district by Cavallo at the start of the school year, joins the board at its monthly meetings to give a brief update on financial matters. In recent years, under the previous administrator, this was not the case. The role of the business manager with respect to the district’s goals, Brophy said, is to help board members link their spending decisions to the classroom.
“For what we spend, what does it produce,” Brophy said of the relationship.
He cautioned the estimates tied to each goal are subject to change, but should give an understanding of the resources needed for each project.
Administrators also committed to installing a computer lab for students at each school’s library, the curriculum for which will fall to library staff. Grant-White Elementary will be the first school to receive this upgrade, which is expected to take place by the end of the month.
At Field-Stevenson, where library space is at a premium, laptop computers will be purchased.
“We’re really, right now, not teaching computer skills at all,” Cavallo said. “There’s really no where to put that in our curriculum.”
Board President Glenn Garlisch recently sat in on every classroom using a new reading curriculum as part of the revisions to that program. The expectations and responsibilities on the teachers are massive, Garlisch said, but the changes have the potential to produce remarkable results as evidenced by those classrooms where the program was first introduced. He cautioned Cavallo and the building principals at the meeting to make sure staff members are comfortable with the process for changing the curriculum before moving on to other disciplines.