For far too long, Forest Park’s elementary schools have been content to repeat and to continue actions and policies that produced an acceptable minimum result.
Parents didn’t scream. Teachers did their jobs. The school board operated in a contented daze. A series of competent superintendents ran the schools without innovation, without challenge.
And always in comparison to the free-falling failures of Forest Park’s official public high school, Proviso District 209, good ol’ District 91 elementary schools seemed pretty good.
The truth is they’re not pretty good. At best they are fair and they are stuck in time. As elementary education has changed in recent years, District 91 schools have been static. As the demographics of Forest Park’s elementary district have radically changed in recent decades, District 91 has pretended that becoming a minority majority district has no practical implications.
In recent years, the school board has slowly come out of its torpor, asking sharper questions and raising its expectations. That improved board, in turn, brought in a new superintendent a year back who embraces change rather than instinctively tamping it down.
Now Supt. Lou Cavallo has come forward with a game changing plan to reorganize Forest Park’s four neighborhood elementary schools into two pairings-one of primary grade centers (Junior Kindergarten through 2nd grade) and the other for third through fifth graders.
Cavallo rightly notes the pros and cons of his proposal and understands the need for the public to understand the proposal and to have input on it before it is put to a vote by the school board in December.
The downsides of this proposal are that neighborhood schools rightly have a powerful hold on families and communities. Spending seven years in one school is just better for a child than splitting it between two schools. Then there are the logistical issues of having sibs split between two or even three schools, if you count the middle schools. There are issues of busing for reasons of safety.
The pluses, simply on the logistics side are these: Forest Park has a horrendous and chronic problem with late enrollment. Families show up at the 11th hour, enroll their kids and mess up the best laid plans of class size and school size and budgeting for teachers and aides. The pairing system would allow more sections of, say, second grade in each location. That would translate to less disruption and imbalance of class sizes.
More notably, to us, the benefits are that placing all the fifth graders in two schools rather than four allows those fifth grade teachers to work more collaboratively, to innovate in teaching methods and approaches. This district is starved for such opportunities. A second benefit is that in deemphasizing the neighborhood focus of the schools all of Forest Park’s school’s will become more racially integrated. That is a long overdue benefit in Forest Park.
We do have a doubt to raise, though. Cavallo touts this plan as a way to insure that all of the schools will remain open even if, as the district predicts, enrollment drops notably. Looking at surrounding communities, we do not see the evidence that enrollment is dropping as significantly as Dist. 91 anticipates for Forest Park. We’d urge the district to revisit this issue.
Finally, we applaud the school board for its openness to the ideas presented and we urge parents and citizens to bring open minds to the coming discussion.