Hope or hopelessness. Determination or hand-wringing. Inclusion or division.

Those are the choices in Forest Park and across Proviso Township as we look at the grim condition of what public high school education has fallen to in this wider community. These are also the choices we face as we consider more broadly what it means for Forest Park to be part of this wider community where our history and our tax dollars have, for better and worse, brought us. 

Now, at this critical moment, two Forest Park residents have stepped forward to announce they will run in April for the school board at District 209, the Proviso Township high schools. Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner have been leaders in the nascent 209 Together (aka the ‘Brown Cow 20’) group. This recently formed and informal group, mainly composed of determined District 91 elementary school parents, quickly understood two things: The only way to turn this dismal district is to grab the levers of elected office and win a majority of school board seats. And, second, that Forest Park parents are not nearly alone in their anger and frustration over the non-viable option Proviso East and Proviso West have become for caring parents. From Maywood to Melrose Park, Westchester to Northlake, hundreds and into the thousands of parents have abandoned the public high schools they are already paying for.

With the right alliances – Medina and Wagner are already talking to current 209 reform-minded board member Kevin McDermott – a coalition of disenfranchised parents and taxpayers could readily elect a board ready to seek real change in this district.  And everyone should be highly motivated that State Rep. Chris Welch, the past potentate of the District 209 board, is pushing spring election petitions that would place his wife on the ballot for this board. 

Thanks to Wagner and Medina, thanks to the Forest Park parents who are choosing hope, determination and inclusion as a path to change in Proviso high schools.

Been down so long

The latest batch of standardized test scores is in from the Proviso high schools. And if we are buying into hope, too, we’d have to point out that test scores on the Prairie State Achievement Exams are up across the board.

The news from the selective admission Math and Science Academy in Forest Park is genuinely positive. After a tumble a year back, PMSA’s cumulative results leapt by 16 percent. The improvement was across the board – math, science, English. The school’s principal, Bessie Karvelas, rightly boasted that African American students at PMSA are posting results that equal all other sub-groups of students. In a world where the academic achievement gap seems impenetrable this is a notable result.

However, while test scores at Proviso East also moved upward, the baseline is so low that the results are still startling and horrific. Only seven percent of the students at East are rated college ready using ACT benchmarks. 

Also notable is the dramatic drop in chronic truancy across the district. You can’t educate a student who won’t come to school. District 209 deserves credit for this improvement.