The discussion thus far on District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo’s proposal to do away with traditional neighborhood schools in Forest Park has been productive. Albeit, the conversation hasn’t seen much of the direct exchange that many parents – and this newspaper – had hoped for, but we’re ready to give credit where credit is due. Cavallo has answered literally hundreds of questions on everything from logistics to philosophy. He’s written e-mails and made phone calls to parents who asked that he contact them. He is making a strong effort, and in good faith, to communicate.
At the tail end of a school board meeting last week a handful of parents started rattling off sex-offender statistics in the hopes that raising the specter of kids being snatched would persuade board members not to approve the proposal. Perhaps the late hour was taking its toll. Such breathless rhetoric was sure to emerge at some point, but hopefully parents now know enough about the plan to find legitimate reasons to debate it.
To be fair, several more reasonable points were made by this small but vocal group. A discussion on how students would be bused between attendance centers pointed out the need for more planning in this area. Also, building principals are trying to see if after-school events can be scheduled in a way that parents with kids in multiple buildings aren’t conflicted. A third question went to one of the most critical issues in this decision, and that is how to avoid losing the positive culture and parental involvement that neighborhood schools have fostered.
If there are suddenly 70 to 90 sets of parents sending their third-graders to a particular building, rather than 20, how does the district ensure that well-intentioned folks aren’t lost in the shuffle? Rather than trying to forge a bond on the playground or at the PTA meeting with a dozen like-minded moms and dads, will parents be turned off if they’re struggling to just remember the names of 50 other people in the room?
There’s no doubt that parents, principals, administrators and board members value the connection and the contributions that come from these engaged communities. It also seems reasonable that the same parents who pitch in at their neighborhood school would do the same at a developmental center. The challenge would be in finding ways for more parents to reach across geographic and demographic barriers that don’t have to be crossed today. Doing this successfully would be a phenomenal example for the children.
Come December, board members may not have all the answers to these questions, but if a preponderance of the information says the superintendent’s proposal will work, they should vote in favor. In the meantime, parents should continue to prod the district in whichever direction they prefer, keeping in mind that if enrollment follows the path it’s on, the status quo will have to change.