The Forest Park Elementary School District 91 board approved the district’s strategic plan at the board meeting Oct. 9.

In keeping with the board’s past planning, every element of the plan was categorized into one of six “core values.” The board worked over the summer to set district goals, some quantified and some just advisory. Superintendent Lou Cavallo and the administration then hammered out strategies to meet the goals.  

The entire plan was presented to the board at the meeting and will be posted on the district website. 

The board puts each goal into one of six buckets: academics focused on student growth, two-way communication, character education (PBIS), hiring highly qualified teachers, clean, safe environments and financial stewardship.

The board gets progress reports in January and July of each school year. Cavallo’s evaluation is based on how well these goals are met through the school year.

Academic growth

The board set a goal that 73 percent of all students in the district will show measurable and expected growth in reading and 65 percent in math by the spring 2015 benchmark period. 

The growth is measured by winter and spring Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. Last year’s MAP scores fell short of the benchmarks. The goal in reading was 75 percent of  students meeting their academic growth targets, but only 69.39 percent did so. In math, last year’s goal was 80 percent, while the reality was 62.29 percent. Cavallo blamed the failure to meet the benchmarks last year on the change to the Common Core and told the board the material got “more rigorous” more quickly than teachers were expecting.

“This year we are going to have to be realistic,” Cavallo said in July. “We did all the right things, but we just didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”  

The district last year enlisted the help of the West 40 Math Initiative and a district math specialist to help teachers get up to speed. This year the district’s administrators and select teachers will get special Common Core training from the C2 Collaborative.  

For reading, the district will participate in a Study of Critical Readers for College and Careers and close-reading seminars. Key administrators and teachers will be given tips for observation and coaching other teachers.

Foreign language to be evaluated

The board set a goal to evaluate the district’s foreign language program by June 2015. The district started a test program this year offering intermediate Spanish language classes after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Classes were to be taught by Forest Park Montessori teacher Claudia Medina. The cost for tuition is $100 per month with 50 percent off for a second student. Signups for the program were disappointing, and parents and board members said the price was too steep. Cavallo has said it was not cost-effective to hire a foreign language teacher and that there was not enough instructional time in the school day to offer languages. 

 Eliminating math tracks

“The problem with tracks is, if you put a kid in a low track, they stay in a low track,” Cavallo told the board. “That’s not an intervention. It’s a track.”

Cavallo told the board the district plans to eliminate math “tracks” for students, and instead focus on every student being able to master pre-algebra or higher by the end of eighth grade. 

He said the schools could not eliminate tiered math instruction overnight, but they would gradually bring all students up to speed so “every kid is ready for algebra.”

 Communication

The board set a goal of a spring 2015 community survey measuring satisfaction with district communication. The goal is to have the survey receive “satisfied” or “highly satisfied” marks from at least 83 percent of respondents.

Last summer, the board discussed ways to reach Forest Parkers who did not have children attending District 91 schools and measure the perception of the schools among that community.

The communication plan includes the following:

The district sent out a fall newsletter to all local mailing addresses in late September. 

Cavallo presented a proposal Oct. 9 to the board for a “sponsored content” link on the Forest Park Review webpage that led directly to a page populated with content from D91 schools. The cost of the website link will be $12,000 per year.

Cavallo said dedicated teachers and principals at each school were responsible to create articles and take photos to post on the Review and district sites, as well as each school’s social media sites for Facebook, Twitter and Google +. 

Cavallo told board members students would participate in two visible service projects in the community per year. D 91 students helped at the Forest Park Firefighter 5 K Oct. 3.  “This is a way of changing community perception, especially about our middle school students,” Cavallo told the board. “We want to teach our students to learn about service and we want our community to see we have good kids doing good things.”

Cavallo also said the district would overhaul the school digital backpacks to make them easier for parents to read.

The district will create welcome videos for each principal and each school. For the district’s website, D 91 will create a video on school finances and a video on residency. 

Character education

The board set goals for student behavioral benchmarks based on the number of Office Daily Referral (ODR) incidents recorded at a school. This year, the board’s goal is that 80 percent of students received one or fewer ODRs per day.

The district also hopes to decrease in- and out-of-school suspensions by five percent, and reported bullying incidents by five percent.

To do this, the district will improve consistency in reporting and follow-through after incidents. 

Social workers will teach “social and emotional competencies” using a program called Second Step. 

The school district will continue to use the PBIS system and two campaigns called Expect Respect and the PBIS Cool Tool. 

Data will be analyzed to determine the leading causes of in-school and out-of-school suspensions, measuring effectiveness of suspensions on changing behavior and tracking the number of students with multiple suspensions. 

If suspensions don’t change behavior, a new look at consequences and other interventions will be taken, the plan says.

Facilities and systems upgrades

The district will install a new work-order system in 2014-2015 for submitting maintenance requests, the plan said. 

Custodians on day and night shifts will fill out a completion checklist at shift’s end. 

Automated hand dryers and soap dispensers will be installed in all school bathrooms. 

Door-locking systems will be reevaluated.

The school security plans will be updated with the help of the Forest Park Police Department, said Cavallo.

Two new school buses will be purchased. 

Hiring and supporting highly qualified teachers

The district will continue to develop a mentoring system for new teachers, pairing them with veteran teachers.

The district will create a process for hiring recommendations.

The district will participate in recruiting fairs at local universities with an emphasis on minority recruiting.

Fiscal responsibility

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Ed Brophy will investigate property tax relief and present recommendations to the board. 

An electronic payment system for parent payments will be installed by June 2015. 

This article has been updated to correct the price of after school Spanish language classes offered by the district. 

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...