Enrollment has been dropping in Forest Park’s public elementary schools for a long, long time. The slide has been steady, sometimes sharp, sometimes papered over a bit as pre-school classes were added.
Now with a total student count just over 700 spread paper thin among five schools, the school board and its new superintendent are facing up to the reality that this is neither sustainable nor desirable.
The district will hold three public hearings in the next 10 days to gather response from the community and then it will act. From a presentation made at an April 14 school board meeting, it seems clear one school will be shuttered before classes resume in the fall. Would not be a surprise if two were closed.
On the block almost certainly is Grant-White Intermediate School, 147 Circle Ave. Possibly facing closure is Betsy Ross Primary School, 1315 Marengo Ave.
As Kyra Tyler, president of the school board, acknowledged, closing schools is always a wrenching proposition. That said, given the predicament the district faces — its decision to remain in the “grade center” rather than neighborhood school model — simultaneously closing one of two primary schools and one of two intermediate schools makes logical sense.
Better to close both schools now, adopt the model Supt. Elizabeth Alvarez has brought forward, and move ahead with the hardest decisions made.
There will, rightly, be tough questions that don’t have good answers. How did this institution, its administration and board, watch passively for so long as enrollment fell by some 40 percent? Why did the district make such substantial investments in expanding and improving school buildings that taught so few students? Why was there not more concern raised in the village, by this newspaper, as enrollment unraveled?
Looking ahead, there are other equally tough but more critical questions that we all need to find answers to. In a moment when multiple other school districts in our vicinity are building additions onto school buildings as enrollment climbs, why is Forest Park in this circumstance? What are the complex and interwoven factors in the schools, in the village, that have created this dire situation?
Of course, there are challenging logistical questions, too. Can existing physical space be reconfigured this quickly? What happens to teacher and staff levels? And what is the future of two handsome and modernized school buildings?
The Forest Park public schools have an earned reputation over decades for having a rubber-stamp school board, for having superintendents who stay long and aren’t often questioned. That will put you in a place like this.
It is encouraging to see the current board face up to this reality. And it is good to see Alvarez, just completing her first year, with the strength and wisdom to take on brutal decisions to right-size and remake a district that has resources and much potential.