Two days into the new school year, former Grant-White teachers and parents said they are happy with the transition to Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School. 925 Beloit Ave.
On May 12, the Forest Park School District 91 Board of Education voted to close Grant-White Elementary School, 147 Circle Ave., and transfer the students and teachers to Field-Stevenson school on the other side of town. This was part of the effort to consolidate facilities in the face of declining enrollment. According to Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez, Grant-White is currently being used for teacher development and other programs.
The Review attended the Aug. 24 Field-Stevenson open house to try to get a sense of how the former Grant-White faculty and families feel about the transition. There was a sense of optimism, even if sometimes a cautious one, with teachers and parents saying that, so far, things have been going well. Many teachers who spoke to the Review said they felt welcomed, and they appreciated the support they got from Susan Bogdan, Field-Stevenson’s principal.
In Forest Park, the elementary schools have been divided into primary schools for grades K-2 and intermediate schools for grades 3-5, with Forest Park Middle School, also at 925 Beloit Ave., serving students in grades 6-8.
Last spring, the board of education proposed restructuring the entire system, turning Garfield Primary Elementary School, 543 Hannah Ave., into the district’s one preschool and kindergarten school, putting all grade 1-4 students at Field-Stevenson and putting all the grade 5-8 students in the middle school while closing Grant-White and Betsy Ross primary elementary, 1315 Marengo Ave. The plans were scaled back amid concerns about accommodations and services for students with disabilities, but the board hasn’t taken them off the table entirely.
The changes that were implemented mean that all grade 3-5 students now attend Field-Stevenson. To accommodate families that live north of the Eisenhower Expressway, the district offered free bus services.
Throughout the process, district officials emphasized that, if the student population grows, Grant-White may reopen as a school again, and that they had no intention of selling the building or leaving it empty.
Alvarez said that this school year, the district is using the building for teacher coaching and other professional development activities. The district has also partnered with Triton College to offer English language and citizenship preparation classes for immigrant families, and those classes will be held in the building as well.
Bogdan told the Review that she was happy to have an in-person open house at all for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and that she saw many excited kids running around.
“I think things have been going remarkably well,” she said. “It’s actually been great to see the [Grant-White and Field-Stevenson] community come together. The students transitioned very well, and they look to be very excited to see their friends from the other schools.”
Bogdan said that, so far, she’s been getting good feedback from teachers and parents.
Many former Grant-White teachers praised the principal for helping with the transition.
“Honestly, [the transition is] better than I expected,” said 3rd grade teacher Jerry Ryan. “It was a very big change, for sure. Principal Bogdan has been great, and the Field staff has been very welcoming.”
“[Bogdan] has been so amazing with us teachers from Grant-White, helping the school coming together, and just making us part of our new school, “said 4th grade teacher Erica Conwell, adding that she was pleased with how the principal listened to teachers and students.
Elizabeth Robinson, a resource teacher who started her first year at Field-Stevenson after working at Garfield, said that she felt that “Field-Stevenson has been very welcoming to Grant-White staff and tried to make them feel connected.”
“We’re just on Day 3, but I think, so far, the transition is going well,” she added. “I do think some of the students are excited to all be together in one building.”
Jeremy Jones went to Grant-White as a kid and now has a son going to 5th grade at Field-Stevenson. He said he was sad to see the school close because it “means a lot to me,” but he said his son was doing “great,” which pleased him.
Frank Thom, a Grant-White parent, previously spoke to the Review during the May 19 North Side Art Festival, the last event the school held. At the time, he said that, while he and his wife were sad to see the school close, especially since their son, a third grader, only went there for one year, they were excited about what Field-Stevenson might bring.
During the open house, he told the Review that he liked what he has seen so far.
“It seems like everything has been really great,” he said. “Everything seems really organized. So far so good.”