District 91 parents, following the annual State of the District Address, repeatedly provided Superintendent Louis Cavallo, administration officials, school principals and school board members with examples of miscommunication. Then again, administrators at Betsy Ross Elementary last Thursday evening outnumbered the dozen or so parents in attendance.
But even that served as an example. “This meeting tonight,” said one parent, “you’d have more people if more people had found out about it. … I only found out about this meeting because I was on a non-school-related website. … It wasn’t on the school’s Facebook page. … It wasn’t on the district website.” Another parent added, “Clearly, the people sending out electronic communications are not experienced.”
Cavallo echoed their frustration. Referring to the district’s emphasis on communication, he said, “This is a core value that will never go away. … We always do more, we always do more but there’s always more to do. We can always do better.
“Obviously the things we did didn’t work,” he added. “We don’t have a full house here.” Cavallo said spring break might have impeded efforts to disseminate information regarding the April 16 event.
In an email sent to the Review after the meeting, Cavallo acknowledged, “It is true that [information about the meeting] did not get posted to the website/Facebook and get tweeted until Monday of this week” but noted that the address was included in each school’s “Digital Backpack” in addition to “business owners, village officials, the Chamber of Commerce and Development, Park District of Forest Park, state representatives, and other key communicators,” who received email invitations.
Cavallo explained to parents in attendance that the district transitioned to a new electronic communication system this year that proved difficult to implement.
“The amount of communication from some schools was less, at least initially, than it had been in the past,” he said. “We take responsibility for that.”
Stating that the issues are now resolved, Cavallo said parents can now monitor academic progress and communicate with school faculty. However, the electronic emergency notification system is still not functioning due to problems with the company hired by the district. Cavallo vowed it will be operational by next academic year.
He also announced a new effort to present relevant information to the community. D91 will now operate a dedicated page, updated weekly, hosted on the Forest Park Review’s website which will feature, according to Cavallo, “Cool things going on in all of our schools, from instructional strategies, to programs … everything.”
Communication problems aside, parents inquired about a wide range of topics including Common Core, foreign language programs, and even the district’s food service.
Cavallo enthusiastically shared several facility updates as well.
“I have wanted playgrounds at these buildings since I got here,” he said. “Within six weeks — we had to wait for weather — we should have playgrounds yet this school year in all of our primary and intermediate buildings.” Parents greeted that information with applause. Indoor improvements to some of the buildings, including more energy-efficient light fixtures and central air systems, will be installed, too.
Despite decreased enrollment, Cavallo said the district is in “outstanding financial shape … with positive fund balances in all funds,” but noted, “We do have a higher than normal move-out rate, especially when we get to the upper grades.”
Speaking with the Review after the meeting, Susan Hill, a parent with two children in D91, agreed with Cavallo’s assessment.
“Having a child in the middle school and being in the Proviso Township,” she said, “more than likely we’ll move before my child graduates.”
When asked by the Review about his main accomplishment this past year, Cavallo responded in an email, “I am most proud of the hard work of the instructional staff and administration as they prepare for the instructional shifts associated with the Common Core Standards. They have worked very hard to prepare to not only teach different standards, but to teach these standards in a way that leads to deeper understanding by our students. The professional development has been intense and time-consuming but they embraced the challenge and worked hard for the benefit of our students. I couldn’t be more proud of our staff.”
The district has also begun preliminary talks with the teachers union regarding a new contract. Cavallo is confident an agreement will be reached without incident, pointing to the “collaborative” relationship with the union and the positive interactions he has had with the union since his hiring nine years ago.
Near the end of the two-hour meeting, one parent thanked Edward Brophy, assistant superintendent of operations, for his efforts to remove all fees, provide school supplies and cover field trip expenses for the students. “It’s amazing … all my Oak Park friends are jealous,” she added as other parents applauded.