The West Cook YMCA honored superintendents from Forest Park District 91 and River Forest District 90 schools with its prestigious Scott Gaalaas Community Partner award — named after the organization’s late and longtime head — at its annual gala on April 27.

Phillip Jimenez, current president and CEO, said the YMCA recognized D91 Supt. Lou Cavallo and D90 Supt. Ed Condon because of the success of the Power Scholars Academy, a joint initiative between the districts and the Y that addresses summer learning loss, the achievement gap, and increases student self-confidence.   

“In today’s time of seemingly less and less willingness to collaborate or compromise, these three [entities] do so without seemingly any complications, and we were successful the first time out of the gate,” Jimenez said. “I think this is a sign of hope for all the communities that together we’re stronger, together we can achieve mutual goals, and it really does take a willingness to collaborate and sit at the table and work it out.”

Jimenez said the idea for Power Scholars Academy started in 2015, when the Y met with River Forest and Forest Park school officials, asking about how the organization could better support the districts. After meetings with Cavallo and Condon, Jimenez said it was clear the Y could help the schools address an issue both were facing: the academic achievement gap between majority and minority population students.

“We’re not bound by zip codes or taxing bodies or anything,” Jimenez said. “We wanted to see if there was a way to do some cross-village supporting of our students.”

Three years later, D90, D91 and the Y are celebrated their first summer of the Power Scholars Academy, which represented the first time all the organizations had come together for a single initiative. It also represented the first time nationally that two school districts had come together for the summer program. Nationally, students who attend Power Scholars Academy achieve a two-month gain in reading, 1.5-month gain in math and an increase in self-confidence.

“Historically, these two school districts have not collaborated in the past to provide programming options for families, but the West Cook Y provided the framework and inspiration for District 90 and District 91 to pursue one of our essential, shared imperatives — ensuring excellence in academic achievement for every child,” Condon said in an emailed statement.