‘We want to build a sense of community so that the schools can be the backbone of Forest Park.”
Those were the essential words spoken last week as Supt. Louis Cavallo delivered his ninth annual “State of the District” talk to parents, District 91 staff and the Forest Park community.
Despite the progressive and determined work of the school board, of Cavallo and the faculty to invest in Forest Park’s public elementary and middle schools over this decade, odd forces loose in the town have fostered a disconnect between these strong schools and the community.
It is not reasonable, it is not fair, but the undercurrent is there. Enrollment has fallen, the racial balance in the schools has shifted further. And please, no pretending that race and its many aspects isn’t a necessary part of this discussion. Perhaps the village government’s new and overdue Diversity Commission can play a healthy role in rebuilding the worthy connection between Forest Park and its schools. It could start by urging village hall leaders to talk up these schools.
There are, of course, other factors. After decades in which there seemed to be a firewall between Forest Park’s rightful unease with its public high school option and its opinions about the grade schools, the virus seems to have spread from older to younger. That’s ironic when Forest Park finally contributed to new Proviso Township High Schools leadership that can gradually improve those schools.
And Cavallo and the district also have responsibility here. In acknowledging at the top of his talk last week that faculty and community members had urged him to ditch the charts and talk more candidly about the district, Cavallo was, in our opinion, outing himself as something of a stiff. He is a gifted educator, but he is not good at selling the product.
In a semi-hostile environment, parents deciding where to entrust their children for an education need a little warmth and reassurance that District 91 is the best choice. They don’t need a technology tutorial.
Perhaps the wise hiring of a communications director this year is paying off. This district has a great story to tell parents and the wider community. Dr. Cavallo needs to improve his engagement skills, loosen up a bit and allow those around him the satisfaction of selling to their neighbors the fine schools they have built.
No one likes it when a giant dysfunctional bully tells them what to do. So we get the resentment that Forest Park’s village leaders feel as they reluctantly work to meet a mandate handed down by the putrid pols in Springfield that requires the village to merge its perfectly fine emergency dispatch service into a larger, shared entity.
We report this week that Village Administrator Tim Gillian is in talks with the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center about a merger. WESCOM is really just a fancy name for the long-merged Oak Park, River Forest, and oddly, Park Ridge, fire and police dispatch center.
After considering other options, Gillian is wisely focusing on aligning with River Forest and Oak Park. It is a logical alliance and, dare we suggest, could be a precursor to further collaborations, including a shared fire district.
Change is hard. Resenting Springfield is easy and deserved. But there are upsides to be mined here, too.