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Today let’s take a look at the two school districts serving Forest Park. That would be the District 91 elementary schools and the District 209 Proviso High Schools. The school board and the school administration make the tough choices and set the tone, so we’ll focus there.

As this new school year begins the contrasts could not be more stark.

Our elementary schools

IWe are impressed with the direction of the District 91 schools. A talented and determined school board knows where it wants to take these schools and it is in sync with an administration that matches it in energy and accountability.

It is rare to see a school board that is both singular in its overarching goals and still made up of clear minded individuals who stoke thoughtful discussions. And the administration, headed up by Supt. Lou Cavallo and Finance Director Ed Brophy, is a strong mix of big thinking and tight, focused, accountable operations.

As the new year begins, this school district is working off a detailed plan crafted over the summer. What impresses us most is that the six goals encompass all the moving parts of a progressive school system. There is a focus on students, on teachers, on parents, on taxpayers. And not only is there a clearly stated goal in six specific areas but there is a plan of action and there are clear, accountable targets.

In academics, the district moves into year two of a new MAP program that measures the progress of each student. Already the district uncovered and will now address an unexpected hole in its curriculum. Top graded students were not posting much progress in the testing over the course of last year and will be given challenging material.

Frank Mott, the board president, was blunt in assessing a genuine weakness in District 91. The schools don’t communicate well with families. The district doesn’t engage families actively enough. We’ve heard this repeatedly. So, it appears, have school board members.

Finally in an era when most taxing bodies gobble up every last nickel, District 91 continues to abate taxes back to residents. When the moment comes inevitably that this district needs to ask for a referendum, this history of abatements will be a compelling argument for fiscal responsibility.

Meanwhile at the high schools

As the school year begins, it is business as usual at the Proviso high schools under the warped leadership of Chris Welch. That translates to self-dealing, administrative turmoil, increasing board vs. administration dissension and precious little discussion of another year of student failure.

The never ending carousel of principals, associate superintendents and consultants continues to flop through the system. But now the actual superintendent isn’t able to get her own picks approved. But let’s give her a five percent raise anyhow. Why not?

Again, the board dissed the state panel that now oversees the finances of this failed school district. This time it voted down a proposal to save money by hiring an in-house lawyer. Welch prefers his outside law firm and the strings it allows him to pull.

Meanwhile, Daniel Adams, the vice-president of the board, voted with the majority to hire his wife as a school secretary. That pension will be a nice annuity for the Adams’.

Have these people no shame?