Two Proviso School District 209 board members from Forest Park said they have heard from parents of Forest Park School District 91 students, who are concerned that inadequate communication by both districts will mean their children will not be able to apply for spots at the Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy (PMSA) magnet school.

The application deadline to apply for a spot at PMSA is Friday, Jan. 15.

To be considered by PMSA for the 2016-2017 school year, a student needs to complete their four-step application process by Jan. 15. The process includes the student taking an Explore exam and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, writing an essay on-site at PMSA, and submission of their application package, according to D209 board member Claudia Medina.

As of Monday evening, there was no opportunity for students to take the required exams or complete the on-site essay by the deadline if they had not done so already.

Medina said she was contacted by at least seven parents who said they weren’t aware of the application process and testing dates until it was too late for their student to take part. Board member Ned Wagner said he heard from a D91 family about the same issue.

Medina and Wagner said that ineffective communication by D209 and D91 about applying to PMSA was cited by the families who contacted them.

Medina said she felt all involved parties bore responsibility — parents, students and both districts. But, she said, communication flaws made it understandable to her that parents would feel they didn’t get enough information.

On Tuesday night (Jan. 12), Medina and Wagner said the Proviso Board of Education was scheduled to discuss what, if anything, the district can do to accommodate students at district feeder schools who still want to apply to PMSA for the coming school year. Medina and Wagner said that meant the board would discuss the possibility of a make-up exam before the deadline.

However, Wagner noted that in the past when a number of parents from other Proviso feeder districts complained about not getting enough information about the application process, he did not recall a make-up test being offered.

In order for a make-up test to be completed by the Jan. 15 deadline, students would need to be able to take the test and complete their essay either Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. The district would also need to get the word out to all feeder schools about the opportunity.

“I recommend there [be] a make-up exam,” said Medina. “That’s my personal opinion. But we won’t know the outcome until the board discusses it and has a conversation.”

According to Medina, parents and students could have received information about the application process, as well as the application packet, at an open house held by D91 earlier in the school year. Medina said she believed information about applying to PMSA also went home with students in a school newsletter.

Forest Park Middle School Principal Joe Pisano and D91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo did not respond to requests for interviews on Monday about how the district communicated the testing days and application process to students and parents.

Application materials and testing dates are also provided on the PMSA website.

Wagner said the fact that year after year parents complain about the lack of communication regarding the PMSA application process shows that Proviso — and feeder districts like D91 — should be doing a better job of getting the word out to students and their parents and explaining the process.

“I don’t know where the exact particulars of the breakdown [of communication] occurred,” Wagner said. “Whatever we do, we should work through the problem for a positive solution.”

He urged parents to attend the D209 board meeting on Jan. 12 to share their concerns about the PMSA application process and the districts’ communication of it during public comment.

If students are not able to apply for a spot at PMSA, their other public option would be to attend Proviso East High School.

Wagner said he believed that many Forest Park parents put a lot of emphasis on their student getting into PMSA as they explore their public options due to a bad impression of Proviso East High School, which ranks significantly lower in state assessments than PMSA.

But, he said, Proviso East has come a long way and he sees good things going on there. While there is still much work to be done, Wagner said, parents should see Proviso East as a good option for their children.

Regardless of whether the D209 board will be able to accommodate a make-up test date for PMSA applicants before the Jan. 15 deadline, Medina said the application process needs to be re-thought.

“We want to change the process because it’s confusing,” Medina said. “No other school operates like this.”

Medina questioned, for instance, the practicality of having students take the now discontinued Explore exam, as well as the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, as a requisite of applying to PMSA. Explore, she said, only lets the district know how a student might perform on the ACT test, not what type of student they are.

The board has discussed revising the process several times, she said, adding that she would prefer a single entrance exam test in addition to the application package.

A committee convened by the board to re-evaluate the application procession has already begun work, she added.

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