It is Forest Park’s greatest conversation starter. “What if” Forest Park could have its own public high school? “What if” Forest Park could break away from Proviso Township’s failed high school district and join up with Oak Park and River Forest High School?
Because Forest Park doesn’t have a bigger problem than being attached to one of the worst public high school systems in the state, the topic isn’t going away. Village leaders were blunt last month in assessing the impact of being aligned with a “ridiculously underperforming” high school, as Mayor Anthony Calderone put it. Commissioner Mark Hosty, who is a Realtor along with his restaurant/bar interests, acknowledged that the high school is directly cutting into property values in town. We’d suggest that the decline in enrollment in the District 91 elementary schools is, in part, a byproduct of a general worry over local public education.
Now comes a welcome assessment of the practicality of Forest Park breaking away from Proviso Township high schools courtesy of District 91.
The study was commissioned by Supt. Lou Cavallo from the district’s legal counsel. In simple, straightforward language the report addresses necessary steps toward either creating a “unit district” that would expand D91 into a K-12 system or appending Forest Park to another contiguous high school district.
In providing these reports to the Review and the community, Cavallo took pains to say this topic is always top of mind, here are the facts the community can consider as possible next steps.
The hurdles and hoops are, as you’d imagine, enormous. Likely insurmountable. And, Cavallo made clear, even if possible, either option would result in higher taxes on local citizens.
But something has to give here. The tacit, sometimes unspoken, agreement of a generation ago that the price of living in Forest Park was to pay lower taxes and then spend big on private high schools is gone. Forest Park taxes aren’t actually so low anymore. And if Forest Park wants to move past its roots and evolve into a destination for young families leaving the city – often because of frustrations with failed public schools in Chicago – our town will not make that cut without a viable high school option.
There are not simple answers here. Getting out of Proviso will not be easy, maybe impossible. If there is hope it will come from a so-far not visible group of young leaders in our town who have the direct interest of fixing this monumental problem for their kids.
The alternative, stated eloquently by Sean Blaylock this week, is for Forest Park to take on the primary role of disrupting the status quo in the Proviso schools. That will be difficult so long as our elected leaders, led by Calderone, are the political allies of the very people who have overseen the decline and chaos of this district. That would be former school board president and now State Rep. Chris Welch.
Multiple Forest Parkers would need to run for the school board on a massive reform agenda. Alliances would need to be built in other Proviso communities which seem to be asleep as their community’s youngsters are abandoned to these schools. Administrators will need to be fired and replaced with exceptional public school proponents.
Either approach, or both at once, will be long term projects. Way past time to get started.