The academic year has reached the halfway point and on Jan. 8 the District 91 school board heard from administrators how the goals for the school year were progressing. 

Superintendent Louis Cavallo walked the board through a “dashboard” of strategies for achieving this year’s goals. Cavallo had cancelled school that day, the second “cold weather” day so far of the year, with high winds and bitter cold.

Eliminating mathematics tracking

Cavallo has told the board the district will eliminate all “mathematics tracks” at Forest Park Middle School by the 2017 school year. The goal is for all eighth-grade students to have experience of mathematics at the pre-algebra or higher level.

“The problem with math tracks,” Cavallo said, “is you can never get out of them.” Middle School teachers, with professional development help from the West 40 Math Consortium have bought into the idea that the rigor of middle school math can be improved for all students. 

“If we’re going to raise the rigor, we don’t need the tracks,” Cavallo said on Monday, adding that getting all students to pre-algebra and above was “easier said than done.”

“Some students will need support. Some will need interventions, but the teachers are embracing that. We’re not just going to put them in a track and forget them.”

Cavallo said a multi-year process was necessary to boost the curriculum of students at the lower grades so that by the time they got to eighth grade they will have mastered fundamentals and be ready for concepts in pre-algebra. 

Possible iPads for grades 3-5

The district’s one-to-one technology initiative has been cautiously approached by Cavallo and the school’s technology department, particularly in “intermediate grades” 3-5. More apps are available on iPads for students in this grade level than on Google Chrome Books, purchased in bulk last year by the district, Cavallo said. 

“There’s no law that says we have to have the same format for all students,” Cavallo said Monday. “Applications matter, not the machine.”

The administration is getting input from teachers and a technology committee and will make a decision by the end of the year, he said.

Building community awareness

One of the district’s goals, under communication, is to identify at least two community service projects for students. This is nothing new, said Cavallo. 

“Our kids have always done community service projects,” he said. “The reason is not for community recognition; we’re not doing this for PR.”

Students have helped this year with the Firefighters 5K, Kiwanis Peanut sales and a food pantry can drive. 

Cavallo and the board agree students in the district are excited to help out in town. 

“We want the community to see how great our students are,” he said.

Electronic payments coming next year

A goal of the board is to have an electronic payment option for parents/guardians to activate online. This is primarily for paying for lunch, Cavallo said. Parents have been clamoring for an online lunch payment system for a while, and the district has finally committed to creating a program.

 Property tax relief

The district has been tasked by the board to come up with ways to continue to lighten the tax burden on local Forest Parkers. In the past several years, the district abated almost $2 million in taxes, which were returned to taxpayers based on property assessments. 

Assistant Superintendent and Finance Director Ed Brophy said the district was carefully watching the progress in Springfield of Senate Bill 16, a school financing bill. Though SB16 appears to be dead in the legislature, Brophy said it’s important for the district to keep an eye on these discussions. The district stood to lose $850,000 if SB 16 had passed, he said. 

The district’s current reserve is $21.7 million, about 15 months of expenditures, according to Brophy. This amount is $3 million lower than at the same time last year because the district spent around $3 million to build the addition on Betsy Ross School, for which no bonds were floated. 

“The district will be initiating several capital investments later this year that will further reduce the reserve level,” he said in an email.

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...