Forest Park District 91 schools celebrated a year of firsts in 2018. 

Forest Park Middle School (FPMS) unveiled a new curriculum and student schedule, which Superintendent Louis Cavallo said will eventually drive higher test scores for students. The state named the district “commendable” in its first ranking in the annual report card—the second highest rating a district can receive—but “we are in our first year in a multiyear endeavor,” Cavallo said at the time, with the district aiming to raise state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores by 10 percent by 2020. 

PARCC scores have also revealed a continuing academic gap between minority and majority students. As a response, the D91 Board of Education contracted in April with the National Equity Project, a leadership organization that helps identify biases and improve education outcomes for all students.

 It was not the only major move the board made this year. 

After a vacancy on the board opened, board members appointed Greg Mitchell to the post in September, amid some pushback over Mitchell’s seeming lack of involvement in the school and community. The D91 board now faces its first contested school board race in recent memory come election in April 2019: seven challengers have emerged for the three seats that will open. Mitchell is among those competing in the spring election.

For now, board members are focusing on driving a greater connection with the community and have introduced “Engage Cafes,” where once a month two board members hold office hours for community members to come down for an informal conversation.  

At least two teachers were also recognized for their work this year, with Cheryl Frawley, a kindergarten teacher at Betsy Ross Elementary School, named a finalist for the esteemed Golden Apple award in February; and Grace Finn, D91 challenge teacher, a recipient of a Lego Master Educator award in June. 

Teachers impact on students was seen outside the classroom, too. In March, FPMS and Proviso high school students marched out of class en masse to raise awareness about gun violence and honor the 17 victims fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.  

Daniel Contreras, a seventh-grader at FPMS, also spent 2018 thinking beyond the village’s borders. For a little over two weeks, Contreras dedicated his mornings, evenings and lunches to making slime. He sold the squishy substance and donated the more than $400 in proceeds to LifeStraw, a nonprofit that creates clean water filters for schools in Kenya and was recognized by the organizers of “We Day” in April. Then, Contreras was invited onto the stage at the Allstate Arena, where officials talked about why he served as a model for volunteerism.

 He was not the only D91 student to dedicate themselves to a greater cause. Fourth-graders at Grant-White Elementary School raised more than $350 to buy fans for students in the Philippines in February; and seventh-graders also made blankets that they delivered to a homeless shelter in Chicago in December.