By Nona Tepper
At a District 91 Board of Education meeting on Oct. 11, Superintendent Louis Cavallo revealed anecdotal data about where D91 students have said they're attending high school over the years, with most enrolling at Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) or a private school. Last year, however, there was a noticeable uptick in the number of students attending Proviso East or West. At the same time, the number of students moving to public high schools out of town has increased to about a quarter over the last three years.
"Before PMSA was there, back in 1999 and 2000, it was 84 percent going into private school. Back then, the vast majority of our kids were going into private school," Cavallo said. "So all the work that D209 is doing to try and improve, I think, is having an impact. A lot more of our kids went to D209."
Cavallo said he got this data by asking eighth-graders where they planned on going to high school, and also by looking at what high schools were requesting students' test scores. He noted that, because the sample size is so small, choices by individual eighth-graders had a big impact on the percentages. Cavallo said this is the first time he presented such data and that he plans to report where students are attending high school every year after this.
In 2013, 13 percent of eighth-graders were planning on enrolling in a public high school that was not D209, Cavallo said.
"In other words, they moved out of the D209 area altogether to Oak Park, River Forest, Lyons Township, Chicago, etc.," he said.
Twenty-four percent of eighth-graders enrolled in selective private schools like Fenwick and St. Joseph, while 21 percent of students planned on attending PMSA. Nineteen percent of eighth-graders were planning on attending Proviso East or Proviso West, he said, and another 23 percent were undecided about where they would attend. There were 83 eighth-graders enrolled in D91 in 2013, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
"Nearly half of our students were at least prepared enough to go to a private school, their test scores, etc., were high enough for PMSA," he said.
In 2014, 15 percent of eighth-graders were planning on attending a public school out of district; 46 percent of students said they were going to a selective private school; 13 percent of students planned on PMSA; 8 percent of students were planning on going to Proviso East or Proviso West; and 18 percent of students were undecided about where they would attend. There were 101 eighth-graders enrolled in D91 in 2014, according to the state Board of Education.
"Some had a choice between a private school and PMSA and were still deciding, some were still hoping they were going to move out, I'm going to be guessing many of them ended up in D209 but they just didn't know at that point and didn't report," Cavallo said.
In 2015, 17 percent of eighth-graders planned on a public school out of district; 36 percent indicated a selective private school; 11 percent planned on PMSA; 16 percent were heading to Proviso East or West; and 20 percent were undecided. There were 94 eighth-graders in D91 in 2015, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Of the 87 eighth-graders enrolled in D91 in 2016, 28 percent of eighth-graders planned on a public school out of district; 40 percent were choosing a selective private school; just 3 percent planned on PMSA; 19 percent said they were going to Proviso East or West; and 10 percent were undecided.
"This was a really low year for PMSA, only 3 percent, but a whole lot more went into private school," Cavallo said.
In 2017, 24 percent of students went on to public school out of district; 20 percent of students enrolled at a selective private high school; 26 percent planned on PMSA; 10 percent were going to Proviso East or West; and 20 percent were undecided out of 77 eighth-graders enrolled in D91 in 2017.
In 2018, 24 percent of students headed out of district; 12 percent to a selective private school; 7 percent to PMSA; 34 percent to Proviso East or West; and 23 percent undecided. The State Board of Education has not posted how many eighth-graders were enrolled in D91 last school year.
"That 34 percent is not only the highest percentage of kids going to Proviso East or West in the last six years, I think it may be the highest ever," Cavallo said, adding that the number of students attending D209 hovers between 13 and 15 every year.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, D91 parent Daniel Gasse credited the too-rigorous standards of PMSA's entrance test for driving kids to private schools.
"They were afraid that they were not able to get into PMSA because the gap between middle school and PMSA was so big. So rather than risk it, before it's too late, you apply for a private school and you get there," he said. "So what we really need to do is reduce the gap between the graduating level of middle school and the interest level of PMSA, so the kids are confident that they are going to get into PMSA and they don't choose the private school."