Mayor Calderone talks a lot about process when describing the comprehensive plan. Especially at the beginning, the process is wide open. All thoughts are welcome.
In that spirit, I’m going to acknowledge one of the elephants in the room—the high school problem. Most thoughtful residents of this village agree Proviso East High School is a problem. Some argue negative perceptions about the school are largely imagined. Some have hoped the math and science academy would be the solution, but right now there are only about fifty Forest Park students enrolled at the alternative school. That’s about 12 percent.
To me, the time is right to resume the debate over the high school problem, partly because four stars, if you will, seem to be in alignment.
One star is that District 91 has $25 million in the bank.
Another star is the imminent razing of the Roos Building.
A final star is that a culture of cooperation that has evolved in Forest Park.
We as a village are thinking about the big picture as we create a comprehensive plan.
If you agree with those premises, then consider this scenario. District 91 and the Park District cooperate in designing a facility, to be constructed on the Roos property which would meet both the recreational and educational needs of our community. It would contain a regulation size gym, for example, to allow the Park to do more programming in the winter.
The school would have to be a boutique high school. Most merchants in Forest Park don’t try to be department stores. The same would be true for our high school. We couldn’t have a football team or a lot of AP courses or the “best of everything” like our neighbors have at OPRF. We’d have to imagine what a good basic core education looks like and stick to our vision.
But here’s the thing about the culture in this town. I see the schools and the police and the merchants and the community center and the park cooperating all the time. There is usually more concern about getting things done than protecting turf.
A lot of different flowers can grow in that kind of garden. For example, let’s say the Forest Park Grave Diggers—I like that as a self-effacing mascot—field two soccer teams. A first class field is right there. Same for tennis. Same for softball.
Regarding advance placement courses, would it be possible to work out a deal with Triton College in which FPHS students would go there to take courses instead of hiring an AP teacher for the high school?
This is thinking outside the box. But Forest Park already has lots of residents who have one foot outside the box. Take home schoolers. The ones I have met frankly admit that they don’t have the resources at home, so they hook up with the local library and the Y and the Historical Society to fill in the gaps.
Another example is the Cristo Rey model. Cristo Rey schools are located in low income neighborhoods and are not funded with tax dollars. What they do is have every student work one day a week at a hospital or law firm or a corporate office. It’s partly to earn money to pay the tuition, but perhaps more importantly it gives the students an opportunity to picture what they might become.
FPHS probably would modify any “intern program” they would implement. There would not be the need to earn money to pay tuition bills, for example, but imagine the possibilities of real life learning.
Picture a kid working four hours a week at the Forest Park National Bank. Sure, he or she would be doing bottom of the ladder jobs, but they would be working elbow to elbow with professionals. They would be mentored and affirmed and encouraged every week by professionals who are also role models.
For the Cristo Rey model to work, a lot of business and professional people in town would have to catch the vision. But do you see the possibilities for building and maintaining healthy community?
I can’t picture the Grave Digger basketball team winning the state championship. Not with a student body of 400. Our kids might not score quite as high on standardized tests as those Fenwick or RB. But what they might lose in terms of competitive test scores, I think they would have a good chance of gaining in terms of values like community and the responsibility.