Two of Forest Park’s most essential institutions are entering 2019 taking bold and necessary steps toward a future of inclusive service to every resident. In the actions of the District 91 public elementary schools and the public library we see clearly the path forward for all of Forest Park in clear-eyed self-assessment and determined effort to define a shared future.

Racial equity in our schools

Every person carries the weight and the biases of racial prejudice. It is simply the norm in a nation where race has scarred and scared us for centuries. In 2019 the only shame is to deny the reality of our biases and the way we have baked those fears and, for white people, the privileges of race into every institution.

Our public schools have been steadily facing up to these complex issues. And over the past year, District 91 has become ever more intentional in working toward solutions. In January the school board took the fundamental step of approving an equity imperative, a choice that going forward every board decision will be looked at through the lens of racial equity. 

What does that mean? Supt. Louis Cavallo said the district will overhaul its hiring practices to assure that over time the district’s faculty and staff will include a greater level of diversity. This year, working with the National Equity Project as its paid consultants, the district staff will undertake a clear-eyed assessment of how race factors into the day-to-day choices related to discipline and the designation of a child into special ed services.

In every school district you will find that students of color are disciplined at dramatically disproportionate rates to white students. And the percentage of black boys who wind up in special ed is the ultimate tracking tool.

There is hard work ahead as we are all reluctant to talk about race, to listen about race, to acknowledge the systemic inequities that have to be torn down. The starting point is to accept and identify our own biases without either denial or purposeless self-flagellation. Our school district is showing us the way.

The library’s open doors

Innovation continues at the Forest Park Public Library where generations of stasis are gradually being shrugged off. 

In mid-January, taking a creative approach to problem-solving, the library welcomed two social work interns from Loyola University’s graduate school. This is a first. The interns will be at work three days a week through August working with staff and library patrons.

The need is ever clearer. There are more regular library visitors who need support services greater than those a librarian can supply. The interns will offer help, will be good listeners and then work to make connections with other agencies to help these individuals. 

We’re way beyond the Dewey Decimal system here. We’re into real people meeting the needs of other real people. Libraries are being actively reimagined and our library is at the forefront.