In Forest Park’s public schools, enrollment continued to shrink at the elementary school level, except in the district’s new universal preschool, which filled quickly. Proviso Township High School District 209 hired two new principals, as well as a new finance director and special education head. The district had two large student brawls that went viral thanks to cell phone videos. The district reacted by hosting a safety forum and the board considered uniforms for next year. 

Preschool program packed at District 91, Betsy Ross addition

At Forest Park Elementary School District 91, the school board approved a half-day universal tuition-free preschool program that had been two years in the making. 

Citing the value of early childhood education in future academic performance, Superintendent Louis Cavallo said the program had, “the potential to be one of the greatest single things we could do to improve student performance overall.”

Researched by a committee including Garfield principal Jamie Stauder, the program was built around the no-tuition “early childhood” program already in existence for special needs children starting at age three. The program was built to blend early childhood students in with regular students in an “inclusive environment” with occupational therapy, speech therapy and a social worker. Six other preschool classes were added, with Monday through Thursday taught at Garfield School, 543 Hannah Ave. and Fridays being taught at the Park District of Forest Park, 7501 Harrison St. 

The program quickly filled to capacity with a waiting list of 20 students by July. Cavallo told the board the district would open two additional classes of 15 students each after winter break.

The D91 school board approved the construction plan for a $3.73 million addition at Betsy Ross School, 1315 Marengo Ave. in December.

The new construction will replace the portable unit behind the building. The plans presented to the board included two extra classrooms, a reconfigured library, a revamped gym, and rooms for music and art, a renovated outdoor space and a second-story fenced outdoor classroom. .

Elections: New faces on school boards, anonymous blog linked to Mannix

For the second time in recent years, the Forest Park school board had contested elections in April, 2013. Six candidates applied to run for four open positions. Forest Park Village Commissioner Tom Mannix supported three candidates by shepherding their nominating petitions to the Cook County Clerk’s Office: attorney Thomas Bradley Keefner (an old college roommate from Illinois Wesleyan), Brian Moritz (husband of Village Clerk Vanessa) and Forest Park Police officer Michael O’Connor.

Voters elected O’Connor, Rafael Rosa, who had served previously as a board member, and lawyer Eric Connor, spouse of board member Mary Win Connor, who was re-elected.

Mannix was also found to be linked to the anonymous “Forest Park Truth Squad” blog, which denied that the district had issued a $1.5 million tax rebate and made allegations suggesting the superintendent had used a technology budget to buy personal tablet devices. The unique Google Adsense advertising code for the Truth Squad website was the same as two other websites registered to Mannix. Mannix denied authorship of the blog, but told the Review he wanted to protect the identity of the true owner. The website is now inactive.

Proviso East fight makes national news; safety, uniforms mulled

A new era dawned at Proviso Township High School District 209 as long-time president Emanuel “Chris” Welch stepped down as school board president to take up his newly elected office as 7th District Illinois State Representative. 

In a contested election, Berkeley resident and staff member for Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins Teresa McKelvy handily won Welch’s empty seat. Newcomer Jorie Wright and former candidate Arbdella “Della” Patterson came in distant fifth and sixth. Incumbents Kevin McDermott, Brian Cross and Dan Adams were re-elected. 

The last day of school, May 31, a massive student brawl erupted in the streets of Maywood – planned on Facebook, Twitter and by text. Maywood’s police were caught off guard by the 9:30 a.m. school dismissal time and 300 young people fought in the streets, tying up Maywood and Sheriff’s police for four hours. Ten were arrested. Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry – days from retirement – said the fights were not serious: if they were gang-related weapons would have been used. But viral cell phone videos made their way into state and national media and gave the district a black eye. Earlier in the year, 16 students were arrested for fighting at Proviso West. 

Safety addressed

The District 209 administration addressed the problem and the perception with a safety forum inviting police from all 10 Proviso feeder towns and creation of a hotline. The board further addressed safety concerns  with a district-wide plan for school uniforms in 2014.

Parent outreach, new principals, administrators

Meanwhile, District 209 reached out to parents with Parent University, thanks to a Triton College based community group. A second parent university will be held in February.

Dr. Bessie Karvelas, a Chicago Public School principal known for her fondness for the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program, was hired as the new principal at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park. Former PMSA principal Kimberly Echols was kicked upstairs to the fifth floor office as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. Oscar Hawthorne was hired as principal of Proviso West High School. The district also hired a new finance director, Todd Drafall and new Special Education Director Vanessa Schmitt.