As it moves into a moment of profound and essential change, the District 91 Forest Park Public Schools have resolved one foundational challenge by coming to generous terms with its faculty.
A new and multi-year contract was ratified by an enthusiastic and large margin by teachers and unanimously OK’d by the school board. And why not? The raises over the three-year term of the contract are high.
But as the district prepares to open classes this fall with one fewer school building, teachers realigned in the remaining buildings and uncertainty over future plans for building configurations the district’s dedicated faculty are rightly concerned. Will fewer teachers be needed in the future? How will enrichment classes be structured? Can the district attract the new teachers and aides it might need in a difficult hiring environment?
We’ve been supportive of this school board and its new superintendent, Elizabeth Alvarez, as they have made a series of tough decisions. But declining enrollment in this small district had to be addressed. And now there will need to be progress — slow and steady works for us — on student achievement. We are not bound by the results of standardized testing. But all involved recognize that Forest Park elementary students are not learning at the levels they will need to find success going forward.
These raises are possible because generous Forest Park taxpayers have invested without fail in these schools. There is money in the bank. But it is not endless and taxpayers will rightly become stingier if this shrinking district cannot find its direction, build momentum and spirit and grow into a mighty engine that helps to grow our village.
Reiger Park’s moment
Credit the Park District of Forest Park for getting its ducks lined up in a row. This ambitious district negotiated with village government to take over the planning and operations of most of Forest Park’s long overlooked and underused “pocket parks.”
Now the district, with the help of supportive local state legislators, has lined up an essential $400,000 grant from the state to invest in the plain and unconsidered Reiger Park at the corner of Circle Avenue and 16th St. The largest of the pocket parks, Reiger is of good size and had some popularity in the south Forest Park neighborhood. But it was never planned, its use never maximized.
That changes now as the district has the money in hand, has a preliminary batch of options and is about to re-engage the neighborhood in how it wants the space to be used. We’d expect it will wind up as a combination of active recreation space and some elements of a passive park for quieter use.
Construction should start in the spring of 2023. And then the fun begins.