Forest Park’s elementary schools have a good story to tell. And finally they are figuring out that it is a story that won’t tell itself. In a time when negative energy permeates our entire culture, when social media is the coursing path of simple-minded meanness and inaccuracy, whether the topic is national politics or local school test scores, Forest Park’s District 91 elementary and middle schools have, too often, been on the receiving end.
Beware and reject any Facebook comment that looks longingly back at a D91 utopia that never existed. Just last week there was a comment lamenting that things haven’t been the same since “Art and Joe.” This is a reference to Art Jones and Joe Scolire who served as superintendents well back into the last century.
Give it up, folks. Snap out of it. It’s 2019. Our schools are good. Everyone acknowledges they’re not great. There are problems; there are challenges. But the number one problem we see generally in public education is stagnation and that is nowhere in evidence in this school district.
In an annual State of the District presentation, May 15, Supt. Louis Cavallo and colleagues explained the wide range of initiatives the small district is taking to confront its challenges.
This year we are enthusiastic about the determined effort to embed racial equity into all aspects of life in our schools — cue the FB comments about the good old days when all the students were white and above average. The “equity imperative” is bold and necessary. The next year will see every staff member in the district receive training in how to be open to the reality of how race plays out every day in our schools and in our lives.
As Cavallo said, “It’s more than an equity imperative; it’s a moral imperative; it’s the right thing to do.”
D91 continues to take a wide range of steps — curriculum revisions, added math coaches, class scheduling more focused on math, new ways of assessing students to make faster adjustments — that make plain a determination to improve the education of every student in the district.
The troubling drop in enrollment is offering up the opportunity for the district to expand much-needed preschool seats as well as more after-school programs. The second year of the Power Scholars Academy summer program is exciting on so many fronts. The partnership between Forest Park and River Forest public schools is groundbreaking. The key role played in this program by the West Cook YMCA is gratifying.
The district has also finally grasped that it is responsible for shaping the perception of these schools in our community, and among potential D91 families. New efforts at telling the story of our schools in the community and engaging the wider community — think Kindness Week — are starting to work. And Cavallo, whose reputation among district families as being accessible and connective is weak, made a fundamental request last week of those families. “Talk up our schools,” he said.
We believe these schools have earned that. We know that the trash talk that has been delivered in the past by some prominent people in town has been destructive and unfair. Everyone in town, from Mayor Hoskins to landlords to merchants, would do well to talk up our schools.