Despite attempts by District 209 school board members Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner, the Proviso High School Board of Education did not schedule a make-up testing date for feeder district students who missed prior opportunities to apply for a spot at Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy (PMSA).

Wagner and Medina, both of Forest Park, said they were contacted by parents of Forest Park Middle School students who claimed that poor communication from the district about the PMSA application process caused them to miss testing dates for a chance to enter PMSA.

To apply for a spot at the math and science magnet school, students needed to have completed all testing and turn in their application packages on Friday, Jan. 15 by the close to school. To apply, students needed to turn in the results of their Explore test, complete a Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test and write an essay on a scheduled testing date at PMSA, and complete their application packages, which included getting recommendations from teachers, among other requirements. (See sidebar)

Confusion over the application process caused approximately 10 students at Forest Park Middle School to miss the testing dates, Medina said. By the time the parents learned the Naglieri test and essay needed to be completed at PMSA, there were no more scheduled testing dates before the deadline.

At the D209 board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, Medina and Wagner brought the issue before the board for discussion. Board President Theresa Kelly voiced support for the idea of setting a make-up test date before the Jan. 15 application deadline. Kelly said she believed any student who wanted to apply should have the opportunity to do so, even if they missed the previously scheduled testing dates.

PMSA Principal Bessie Karvelas told the board that the application process this year ran as it always had. Karvelas said D209 communicated the application process to prospective applicants at three open houses held at feeder schools and that students at Forest Park Middle School also received information and application packages in their electronic backpacks through their district. The information could also be found on the PMSA website.

Karvelas told the board that completed tests had already been sent out for scoring and she was concerned about the district’s ability to communicate the make-up test date with only three days before the deadline. Additionally, if make-up tests were conducted, they would still take at least 21 days to be scored and returned to the district.

Board member Brian Cross said he was sympathetic toward students who missed their testing opportunities, as he had also heard from parents in similar predicaments in the past. However, Cross said the district had never scheduled make-up tests in previous years. Cross also expressed concern over potential lawsuits against the district if a make-up test were scheduled at that point in the process. He said it would not be fair to students who completed the requirements on time. 

Ultimately, the board did not take any action at that meeting to schedule a make-up testing date.

Medina, Wagner speak at D91 meeting

Medina and Wagner, meanwhile, appeared at the Forest Park District 91 Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14 to update D91 board members about the issue. At the meeting, Medina said D209 President Kelly had scheduled a special board meeting at PMSA on Friday, Jan. 15 for the board to further discuss a possible make-up testing date.

Medina said she felt D209, not D91, was to blame for failing to communicate the process adequately to the feeder school districts. But she said both districts could do better working together to make the information more readily available in coming years.

D91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo said he believed the district’s communication with parents could always be enhanced but felt the administration did a good job of giving parents information about PMSA applications early in the year and throughout the process.

At Thursday’s meeting, Medina and Wagner encouraged the D91 board to tell students to get the rest of their application packages in by the Friday deadline. There was a chance, they said, that even without the Naglieri test and essay — which account for 36 percent of admissions scoring — students still had a slim chance of getting into PMSA with outstanding recommendations and Explore scores. They also said Friday’s special meeting provided a chance that a make-up testing date might be scheduled for students after the deadline for materials.

To hold that meeting, however, D209 needed a quorum, i.e. a minimum number of board members to attend. Friday afternoon, D209 spokesman Rob Daniels said the board was unable to get enough board members, so the meeting never took place.

More outreach

For students coming from Forest Park, Medina and Wagner are pushing for more outreach from D209 to promote the prospect of attending Proviso East High School.

Wagner said there was a general view in Forest Park that attending PMSA is Forest Park students’ only viable public option for high school. He noted that many parents try to get their children into PMSA, but if they can’t, they prefer to explore private options.

This sentiment was articulated during D209’s Jan. 12 meeting by Connie Brown, the parent of a Forest Park Middle School student who missed the PMSA testing dates.

Brown said she understood that her family missed their opportunity to apply this year due to confusion about the application process. But she added that parents in Forest Park struggle over their high school options, including whether to move when children get to high school age in order to find a better school district. Brown said that, regardless of whether a make-up testing date were scheduled, she would like to see greater outreach to Forest Park students about attending Proviso East as well.

At Thursday’s D91 meeting, Medina said parents who missed the testing dates felt they had significantly harmed their child’s educational future by failing to give them a chance to attend PMSA instead of Proviso East.

Wagner and Medina said that ultimately they are working to raise the caliber of Proviso East so that parents feel good about sending students there. Progress is being made, they said, under new Principal Patrick Hardy.

Communicating that success to the public, however, is critical, they said.

Medina suggested a buddy program at Proviso East that pairs a Forest Park Middle School graduate with a freshman to show them around the school.

The D209 board will also review and make recommendations regarding the PMSA application process this year.

A committee has already begun studying the process will give their report to the board likely in the spring, Medina said.

D91 commits to improving communication on PMSA application

 At the District 91 meeting Thursday night, members of the school board expressed concern over parents feeling that the application process to apply to PMSA was not communicated properly.

As members of the audience, D209 school board members Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner addressed the board during the meeting's public comment period. Medina and Wagner said they were not pointing the finger at D91 for failing to communicate. Both said Proviso needed to do a better job of reaching out to the feeder districts — not only about PMSA but also about the option to attend Proviso East High School.

"Let's be honest, most [D91 students] are terrified of District 209," Medina told the board.

Board member Eric Connor said that he had not heard from anyone that communication of the PMSA application process was a problem.

Medina said, "We have at least 10 parents who didn't know what to do, missed it and are freaking out."

D91 board member Nora Bowker said that since the district had recently hired a new communications person (Rebecca Latham), communication of the application process could be handled by her next year.

Regardless of the PMSA situation, Wagner and Medina said they hoped people would begin to consider Proviso East in a better light. They expressed concern that parents of Forest Park students feel PMSA is their only option for a public school and are afraid to send their children to Proviso East. They said Proviso East has made significant strides as a school recently and is getting better.

"Do we want Proviso East to be a better school?" Medina said. "That's what we're working on now."

D209, they said, needs to do a better job of showing Forest Park students their options and communicating them properly, 

For their part, D91 board members said they would try to improve communication on their end next year and would work with D209 more closely to accomplish that.