Here’s our most pointed current criticism of District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo: He picked the wrong day to schedule his “state of the district” speech. July 2 – the day before the day before the Fourth of July – turns out to have been a dud for speechifying.
Cavallo canceled the talk and instead sat down with the Review to outline the district’s accomplishments over the last year and its challenges going forward.
In the past we’ve been critical of this district’s get-along go-along ways. Good enough was always the accepted target. And the middle was where the schools and its students mainly wound up.
In hiring Cavallo two years ago, the school board turned up the temperature in Forest Park’s elementary and middle schools. There’s been more change in these schools in two years than there had been in the previous 10 and, judging from the buy-in evident among most stakeholders, the district was ready for an overhaul.
The fall will bring the reorganization of the elementary schools by grade levels rather than neighborhoods. This substantial change is touted as an antidote to declining enrollment but the subtext is that the change will bolster team teaching efforts and boost student performance while also breaking apart racial imbalances that have separated the interests of the community.
This reorganization was no small accomplishment. Cavallo and his team deserve credit, as does a school board which held steadfast in the face of a small but vocal parent protest.
A clear example of Cavallo’s talent for enlisting support is seen in two absolutely stellar actions by the district’s faculty. A new contract allows the district to boost pay for incoming teachers while moderating raises for the veterans. Understanding that the district has an unusually stable staff, the teachers paved a path for new hires to be favored with more competitive starting pay. The staff also was generous in reopening the contract’s health benefit package after the district got socked with an 8 percent spike in costs. After changes to the contract that increase was under a half percent. That sort of cooperative spirit says plenty about the positive energy in our schools.
Finally, Cavallo noted that both the perception of the middle school and the reality of life in its hallways were improving. A new discipline program, one that actually smiles on the positive efforts of our young teens, is taking hold. Who knew? Positive expectations work even for our hormone-afflicted kids.
All told, the state of our elementary schools is strong. And that’s good news for Forest Park.