For district Superintendent Lou Cavallo, it’s a question of value.
Several times during his first-ever remarks on the state of affairs in Forest Park’s public school system, Cavallo asked his audience to decide whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. For $13.6 million, roughly what residents in the village pay to District 91, Cavallo laid out what he hoped is a convincing argument that it is money well spent.
“I think we are well on our way to accomplishing great things in District 91,” Cavallo said at the conclusion of his July 29 speech.
With one year under his belt in Forest Park, Cavallo invited community leaders to hear an outline of what the K-8 district has accomplished over the last 12 months. Curriculum changes, technology upgrades and facility improvements were among the points highlighted by Cavallo. Those changes and others, however, were put into the context of a revised mission statement adopted by the school board during the previous academic year. Board President Glenn Garlisch said those who have been elected to oversee public education in Forest Park are unified in their enthusiasm for the task.
At a July retreat held annually for the purpose of setting goals for the year, Garlisch said the board “resolved to not become complacent.”
One change implemented by Cavallo that is expected to have an impact on several fronts is the gradual elimination of class balancing. The practice was put in place several years ago when board members were concerned with classrooms becoming overcrowded, and required that students be shuttled outside their attendance area. With new enrollment projections calling for fewer students in the years ahead, Cavallo said he’s optimistic that retaining students within their attendance area will reduce transportation costs and help to bond families with their local school.
“Having small numbers is a great benefit, but the board and the administration truly believe that you need a strong learning community,” Cavallo said.
Forest Park is home to four elementary schools and one middle school. Approximately 1,000 students are enrolled in the district.
Revisions to the reading curriculum at the elementary levels have been a massive undertaking for staff, said Cavallo. The changes are intended to close achievement gaps among peer groups that have been evident on standardized tests. To go along with those changes, teachers will also use a variety of assessments to more quickly ascertain whether students are grasping the instruction. The coming school year will see these new methods implemented in each of the district’s elementary schools.
“Any kid that walks through those doors, no matter what their skills, will learn to read,” Cavallo said.
Though not discussed at the state of the district address, educators released an extensive guideline for both parents and teachers as part of the curriculum revisions. For each semester of each grade level, the booklet stipulates to specific reading and language skills a student should have grasped by that point.
That information is available on the district’s Web site, which also saw an overhaul under the new superintendent.
Members of the school board, building principals and other district administrators attended the speech, which was held at the Park District offices on Harrison Street. Several village commissioners, the mayor, representatives from the Forest Park Public Library and other community partners of the school district also attended.
“I think you and board have put together an excellent plan to carry out these goals that the board has put together,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone.
The mayor was one of several audience members who either posed a question or commented on Cavallo’s presentation. A representative from 4th District Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s office was also complimentary.
Classes will resume Aug. 26 with an abbreviated schedule. The first full day of instruction is Aug. 27.