It is a welcome sign of change in Forest Park’s District 91 public schools. Active, genuine, inclusive efforts to engage parents, teachers and the wider community in a conversation about these elementary and middle schools. 

This district’s last and long-serving administration had its virtues. Listening was not one of them. 

Elizabeth Alvarez, the superintendent now wrapping up her second year, has made listening a primary goal. “When I took my seat as superintendent, one of the things I kept hearing was ‘we feel that the district isn’t providing us a voice,’ and so we wanted to make sure this was provided for them. … We wanted to make sure people’s voices are being heard,” Alvarez said last week as the district convened the first of two community meetings.

Topics discussed at the meeting, held at the middle school, included grading, social and emotional care of students, more professional development for teachers, equity and how extracurriculars might be expanded. Also discussed was how to grow the diversity of the district’s staff. 

These are all good topics, where ideas and solutions might come from any source. This district, which faces severe drops in enrollment, badly needs to engage all Forest Parkers. The district needs to demonstrate it wants to listen and collaborate. It needs to show it is not operating from a defensive crouch. And most of all, it needs parents, empty-nesters, teachers, and other elected officials to start talking this school district up.

D91 has to be the lure that brings young families to Forest Park and keeps them through eighth grade. 

It was for many years. 

It can be again.

Listening well is a vital start to that effort.