You stare at something long enough and what you see appears normal and right. So, sure, Forest Park elementary schools do not have playgrounds. They have blacktop. Loads and loads of blacktop.

It was in the bold and imaginative expansion and upgrading of Betsy Ross School over the past year that a light bulb went off somewhere in the school district.  So many improvements were added to the school, well, it ought to have a playground. And it does.

And now, suddenly, the rest of Forest Park’s public schools will playgrounds installed. The principals are currently working with a vendor to choose the equipment, to match it to ages, and, if the weather holds, playgrounds will soon be in place – possibly before the end of 2014.

We’re talking swings, slides, climbing ropes and walls. All built on rubberized mats. And each playground will include some highly accessible equipment for students with physical challenges. 

Studies have proven that recess is a critical portion of every school day. And having creative play equipment will not only be more stimulating, it will be a lot more fun. This is a good investment by our schools, albeit several decades overdue. 

Now what else have we been staring at too long?

Goals and measurement

Pronounce us skeptics when it comes to measuring educational achievement. Standardized testing is an imperfect science and it does too little to reflect the art of teaching and the complexity of varied learning styles.

That said, while American public education may have overcorrected in its focus on testing as a measure, it came after decades of bumbling along when strong students were, of course, successful and a broad swath of middle and failing students were largely ignored. 

This comes to mind this week as we watched the District 91 school board and administration adopt its updated strategic plan. This plan is ambitious and comprehensive, it is thoughtful as it focuses on six core values and it is highly laudable as it seeks to hold all stakeholders to account for achieving the goals.

Academic achievement, improved communication with the community, fostering good character in students, good hires for teaching and administrative posts, safe and nurturing school environments and wise financial stewardship are the “six buckets” into which all D91 initiatives are intended to fit.

The broad academic achievement goals seem appropriate and are toned down, especially in math, from last year’s too heady numbers. These goals reflect the genuine challenges facing our schools academically. To its credit, this district is not just throwing numbers against the wall. In both reading and math there are specific initiatives for students, for teachers that should speed progress. 

We’d note, both with interest and transparency, that among the strategies being considered by the board to improve communication with Forest Parkers who don’t have school-age children, is a paid project with the Review to leverage our web site, print and social media to share information with the community.

Over time, the district will be measuring the reach of that effort and we’ll be reporting on its impact.