This was the year of facilities within Proviso Township High Schools District 209.
After long study and preparation, the district moved ahead with a master facilities plan and a route to funding it after decades of only minimal repairs to the three school buildings in the district.
The planning did not come without tensions. In April came news that district architects from Perkins and Will — which had been hired in 2017 to facilitate the district’s long-term master facilities planning process — and community members had even dared to contemplate possibly closing the Forest Park campus of Proviso Math and Science during a public meeting in February.
What followed were weeks of public protest and debate that threatened to undo D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez’s oft-repeated motto “One Proviso.”
As PMSA students expressed their fears of attending school within closer proximity to students at either Proviso East or Proviso West (they brought up fears of bullying and chaos, among other issues), students at the latter institutions pushed back against what they perceived as a process of unfair demonization.
And as the awards and honors rolled in for PMSA this year — ranked among the top 10 schools in the state by U.S. News & World Report, listed as the third best school in the Chicago suburbs by Chicago Magazine and named a National Blue Ribbon school in October — the inter-school rift between the Forest Park school and its less luminous sibling schools seemed to widen.
Headed into 2019, the inequity between the district’s premier institution and its seemingly lesser lights promises to be a major campaign issue ahead of the April 2 election.
Still, the echo created by the equity gap may not be loud enough to obscure the sound of financial success that greeted the district this year.
In August, Standard and Poor’s announced that the district’s credit rating improved from A to A+, and earlier this year, Rodriguez outlined a financial strategy for paying for the district’s long-term master plan that would seem to put D209 on a path to long-term sustainability.
The year ended in tragedy in November and December, when two sophomores at Proviso East died by suicide within less than a month of each other. But if, on a certain level, success at one school seemed to widen the rift separating it from the others, the tragedy at East seems to have resulted in the mending of fences, the stitching together of ties.
Feeder districts have lent resources and community organizations have mobilized to support the District 209 community — such that a year that seemed destined to be marked by friction might be repaired by a more powerful force. Three social workers from Forest Park District 91 assisted the D209 community.
“We’re trying to let students know that we love them,” said District 209 Board President Ned Wagner, in the wake of the suicides.