The instinct is right. Returning the administration of the Proviso Township high schools to its longtime home within Proviso East is an essential message of hope and accountability for a failing school. About as important is getting the staff of administrators out of their imperial offices atop the Proviso Academy for Math and Science in Forest Park. The message those opulent and walled off offices sends to students, staff and parents is clear: We’d rather be comfortable than in the trenches with the people doing the work.
But all factions of the District 209 school board were right when, at their last meeting, everyone rejected the slap-dash and tone deaf estimate provided by a district architectural firm that it would cost $4 million to carve out new offices at Proviso East for administrators and $3.2 million to convert the current space at the Academy into added classroom space.
Now maybe if the goal is to recreate the Taj Mahal of school superintendent offices such as the absolutely enormous, plush, “Oh there are the downtown views” office currently occupied by Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart, well maybe that would cost $4 million. Or we could follow the lead of Theresa Kelly, the board president, who pointed out that until 10 years ago when the Academy was opened, the administration offices were at Proviso East. Let’s give those offices a coat of paint, bring in the wi-fi and get to work. (And for those who have never set foot inside Proviso East, stop by for a tour. There are many lovely, old-school aspects to this fine building.)
This district obviously cannot and should not spend millions on upscale office space for administrators. But they should get their leadership into the most challenging building in the district, out into the hallways, meeting parents when they drop off their kids, and demonstrating to worn-down teachers that they have the capacity to take some joy from the frontlines of education.
Let’s see a new proposal from the administration that takes seriously the will of the new board majority and then let’s get to work.
Undoubtedly there are many factors at work in the continued withering of enrollment in Forest Park’s District 91 elementary schools. But as the numbers continue to tumble, the questioning needs to intensify and a collaborative plan needs to be developed.
The Review reports this week that Grant-White School will open this fall with just a single class each of fourth-graders and fifth-graders, down from two at each level. The declines are also evident at other district schools.
Without question, the turmoil caused by being a feeder district to a failed high school system leads many parents to abandon Forest Park before their kids reach their high school years. But are parents now also sidestepping the middle school in Forest Park, are families looking twice before they move to Forest Park in the first place? The U.S. Census reports that the village lost 25 percent of its children under 14 between the 2000 and 2010 tally.
We’d also note the cumulative property tax burden in Forest Park has risen notably and made the town much less of a bargain.
So, yes, there are multiple causes for this decline, but it is time for all entities in town to go to work on this challenge.