Understand the issues we face

Opinion: Letters to the editor

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My wife and I have lived in Forest Park since 2006, and our two children have attended District 91 schools since they were old enough to do so. Once our kids were in school, we had more time available and wanted to get more involved in the community. I started going to school board meetings to get a feel for the district leadership and following public discussions of school related issues. I had occasion to talk to Dr. Cavallo and some of the board about some specific concerns and it became clear to me that there was a disconnect between what is being done and what many of the community see. After much consideration, I determined there were two problems: issues are complex and many people not involved with the board do not do the necessary homework to really grasp the issues at hand, and the board does not do a good enough job of proactively engaging with the community. Things have changed a little - we have since hired an experienced Communications Director, which helps, but I think there is more work to be done.

A good example is test scores. We as a district struggle, especially in the middle school, which is rightfully frustrating to district residents. There are many components that go into raising them, some of which we can control, some we cannot. It is important to ask the right questions, in order to determine how to find potentially effective solutions. For example: Are test scores generally low, or do we have a small number of students with unusually low scores, pulling the average down? I asked Dr. Cavallo this, and he provided the data showing that scores were generally low, suggesting we have a problem with our curriculum - either the curriculum is not aligned with the testing regime, or we are not implementing the curriculum properly. The district spent time talking to other schools to choose the curriculum that faculty and leadership felt would work best in D91, suggesting that the curriculum is not in and of itself bad. The teachers are now doing 'gap analysis' to see where students are missing key components of the curriculum, and performing immediate interventions to gill those gaps. This is challenging work, and the district is continuously training and monitoring the teaching staff to ensure they are successful. The January board meeting featured an overview of this process. If the residents of District 91 were more aware of just what the board has been doing in this area, I believe they would be less frustrated and more engaged in the process. 

My goal in running for the D91 board is to understand the issues we face and communicate those issues, our analysis and the solutions we implement to the public. I have made a career out of designing and implementing solutions to complex financial, operational, and governance-related problems, while ensuring all stakeholders understand the elements and tradeoffs of the solution and have their concerns heard and addressed. 

Steve Rummel

Forest Park District 91 board of education candidate

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