District 91, Forest Park’s public elementary schools, is having a down year in enrollment. As of mid-September, by 59 students. That’s a drop from 820 students a year ago to 761 students as this school year launched.
Enrollment in the district has been a cause for concern for some time with a roller-coaster effect but a midterm trend showing declines. This year marks the greatest year-over-year drop in several years, and, perhaps of greatest worry, the steepest declines came in the youngest grades.
There are 20 fewer kids in kindergarten, “that’s a whole classroom,” Supt. Louis Cavallo acknowledged. But in grades five, six and seven, total enrollment is actually steady to modestly up.
Obviously, kids lost in kindergarten and first grade likely remain lost for years to come. That potentially portends further enrollment declines.
The district points to a drop in birth rates in Cook County, though some neighboring school districts are posting modest enrollment increases. At a school board meeting in September there were also references to the village’s high percentage of rental housing as a possible cause of the drop, though the mix of housing in town has not changed perceptibly.
Cavallo held out hope that the current low number may increase some with late arrivals. He said the district has some history with families enrolling late.
All that said, the school district, its board and administration, and the village overall needs to be thoughtful and honest in assessing why enrollment has fallen. There are problems in this district and there are absolute strengths. But what messages are being received and what messages are being spread across our community about our elementary schools?
Forest Park spent 40 years at odds, in denial and fully estranged from our Proviso Township public high schools. It would be ironic if, as that connection begins to strengthen, D91’s hold on our community loosens.
We’re looking for some of the energy and positive action, which has begun a slow turnaround in District 209, to find its way into our elementary schools. A first indicator would be a robust and progressive batch of candidates for the spring 2019 school board race.
Choices ahead in Proviso
The master plan to remake the physical plants at Proviso Township’s three high schools is moving from its grand sweep phase into a million small choices about priorities and the logical staging of work — and simultaneously figuring out how to pay for this without putting this district’s hard won financial recalibration into doubt.
Before the year is out, we are told additional school board choices and added public comment are expected. Final approval could come in November or December.
This has been a good process, long overdue, but only made possible by the stabilization efforts accomplished by the current board and administration these past three-plus years.