It wasn’t so very long ago that a Forest Park elementary school superintendent boasted that District 91s test scores weren’t bad – if you subtracted the results of the black kids. His reasoning was that black students across the state, indeed across the nation, had lousy test scores so you couldn’t blame Forest Park for the results.
That might also explain why in that very recent moment District 91 also had wide racial disparities in student enrollment among the four elementary schools. As Tom Holmes reports today in a thoughtful piece on the 60th anniversary of the milestone Brown vs. Board Supreme Court decision, as recently as a decade ago while Betsy Ross and Field-Stevenson had racially diverse student populations, Garfield School was largely white and Grant-White was largely African-American.
Supt. Louis Cavallo arrived in Forest Park in 2007 and he quickly noticed the racial imbalance between Grant-White and Garfield and, speaking candidly to Holmes, says the “resources were not distributed equally.”
That goes to the very heart of Brown. Separate but equal is a ruse. Separate is never equal.
Creating a school system where the enrollment in each school roughly parallels the racial composition of Forest Park overall was an essential aspect of the major reorganization of the four schools that the District 91 school board and administration implemented three years ago. By shifting from a strict neighborhood school model to the grade-center model, District 91 ensured that racial diversity took root in each school.
Cavallo points to other goals including better coordination among teachers when all the third grades are in one building but he is frank in acknowledging that solving the diversity disparity was crucial.
It is hard to give school board members and district leaders enough credit for taking on so challenging a task as this. And while Cavallo remembers a “vocal minority” of objectors that most parents, teachers and community members bought in to the concept is a true credit to this village. The challenge now is to maintain and grow white enrollment in our public schools. It is another reason why certain village commissioners need to tend to sewers and lawn mowing and stay away from education.
Sixty years after Brown, most public education in America remains separate and unequal. From the all black schools on the city’s West Side to the minimally diverse schools in the far west suburbs, we still divide along racial lines. Is there a more chilling example of racial division in public schools than the Forest Park vs. Proviso East chasm?
The parents of Forest Park, the kids and our schools should actively celebrate our success in creating a school system that looks like the world our children will grow into.