Forest Parkers for Better Schools, which began as a Facebook group, held their first meeting on April 7 at the Forest Park Community Center. The 37-member online group has been debating the anxiety and perceived problems that Forest Parkers experience over high school choices, specifically Proviso High School District 209. The social media group was started by two-year resident Cesar Moreno and his wife, Brenda, who have a 3-year-old child.
“I know high school will be here for us in the blink of an eye,” Cesar told the group. “If I had done research about the high schools, we never would have bought a house here.” Nonetheless, he said, “I am here to see what can be done to help the schools.”
The small gathering was sprinkled with present and former board members of District 91 and D209. Bob Cox, a 1972 graduate of Proviso East High School and former D209 school board member, acknowledged that the public high school had “problems” but that they were representative of problems in public education throughout the United States.
D91 school board member Sean Blaylock said the problem was the grownups, not the students. “The taxpayers are the reason why District 209 is where it is. That school board wasn’t elected by a lot of people. If the right board was in place to hire the right superintendent who shared the vision, people could change the system. It starts at the top.” Blaylock and former D91 board member Rafael Rosa, also there, both have children attending Proviso Math and Science Academy.
But resident Bill Lichtenberg said he’s seen school board-reform campaigns come and go for 40 years, “What makes this different than the Students-First Party, or the First-Students Party?” he asked. “You need a normal distribution of students to have a normal school and 209 has a top tier and the bottom students.” He had harsh words for reform efforts: “You can’t un-poison a well.” Lichtenberg said he had supported various grassroots efforts to de-annex from D209, asserting that 125,000 residents in 10 Proviso communities are dissatisfied with their high school options but too diffuse to come together.
Robyn Lee-Diaz, an English teacher at Proviso East listed a number of complaints about the school. “I’m in there every day,” she said. “I know my kids.” She complained that the school just instituted an attendance policy in April, that the students had no writing instruction in four years, and she asserted that students were placed in fund-generating English as a Second Language (ESL) classes just because they had Spanish last names. “I feel free to speak because my contract will not be renewed there. I’m moving on,” she said.
The idea of a Forest Park slate was tossed around at the meeting. The next school board election will take place in spring 2013.
Cesar Moreno said he expected lots of arguing at the meeting, but “I was basically there to listen.” He said the participation of other communities in Proviso is crucial and he’ll be starting a second, as yet unnamed Facebook group that will try to bring in members from neighboring Proviso towns.