It was a bittersweet evening for many Forest Park District 91 parents who attended the May 19 North Side Art Festival at Grant-White Intermediate Elementary School, 147 Circle Ave.
Families walked around the halls to see the artwork from the students who attend the schools serving the north side of Forest Park. They enjoyed the musical performance, and kids enjoyed getting a chance to play on the school playground afterwards. But there was no escaping the fact that it will be the last event Grant-White will be hosting at the very least for a while, maybe forever.
Only seven days earlier, on May 12, the district’s Board of Education voted unanimously to close Grant-White and transfer its students to Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School, 925 Beloit Ave. The move comes in response to the school’s continuously declining enrollment. During the same meeting, the board agreed to make school buses free and available to every student whose family wants to take advantage of them.
Several parents at the event told the Review that their children didn’t even get to properly experience attending Grant-White, or any school, for that matter, since the school was remote for much of the past two years.
“I’m a little sad,” said Ashley Fester-Brown. “My son is in third grade. He just got used to the school, so he’s a little sad.”
She added that she was concerned about the larger classroom sizes at Field-Stevenson.
“We only got to spend a year, because of COVID,” said Frank Tom, whose son is also in third grade.
He said that, on the balance, while he and his wife were sad to see Grant-White close, they were excited by what Field-Stevenson would bring.
Jeanette Irizarry, whose granddaughter is a fourth grader at Grant-White, said that she didn’t understand why the district “would close a perfectly good school,” and that she felt that the district “didn’t talk to the community all that much.”
“There are not a lot of happy parents out here,” Irizarry said, motioning at the playground.
But her responses to the interview questions also suggested that the district could do more public outreach. Irizarry was under impression that the fifth graders would be transferred to a middle school – something that was part of the original proposal but wasn’t approved during the May 12 meeting.
Many of the parents at the art festival had kids at Garfield Elementary School, 543 Hannah Ave. Lauren and Cameron Watkins, who have a daughter in first grade, said that, since they were new to Forest Park and didn’t have any kids at Grant-White, they didn’t feel qualified to comment. But they both said that they appreciated the concert and seeing the kids’ art on the walls.
Molly O’Donnell said that her second-grade child would have gone on to Grant-White if the school wasn’t closed. But she said that, since she was considering moving further west – something that, she said, was due to the rising cost of living rather than anything happening to the schools – so she wasn’t sure whether that would matter.
O’Donnell said that she hoped that, whatever happens, the Forest Park community doesn’t take its schools for granted.
“We loved [the arts festival],” she said. “I think public schools in Forest Park are a lifeblood of this community. We hope that the community rallies behind public schools.”