State of the District: 'Upward Trend'

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By NICK MORONI

District 91's State of the District symposium last week showcased the board's initiatives and gave the public a chance to communicate with district officials.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo was the host for much of the evening, and he spoke to a crowd of 20-30 people who attended the event at Forest Park Middle School. He talked about what the board had accomplished since his arrival in 2007, what its goals are, and then offered attendees a chance to ask questions.

"I think it's important that you have a voice ... to make this district great," Cavallo told the audience before talking about the board's initiatives, using a Power-Point list of "strategic goals" to navigate his speech.

According to that list, the district will work to: institute new programs to improve education; increase communication with parents and the public; better the social and emotional traits of persons communitywide; create a clean, safe and nurturing environment; hire highly qualified and professional staff; and practice fiscal responsibility.

Cavallo pointed to the district's implementation of the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports program (PBIS), which was instituted communitywide subsequent to its success in the schools. PBIS is a behavioral program that teaches kids appropriate behavior, rather than expecting them to be aware of it and then punishing them if they misbehave.

"There are people calling us nationwide, asking us how we did it," said Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who was in attendance. Last year he suggested the communitywide approach.

Since D91 instituted the program in 2008, the district has seen the number of students sent to the office for disciplinary action shrink. Between the 2008-09 school year and 2010-11, that number decreased by 37 percent for Forest Park Middle School and by 47 percent for the elementary schools.

Cavallo also noted that students' performance, as tracked by Illinois Standardized Achievement Testing (ISAT), is "on an upward trend."

"Nearly 80 percent [of students] meet or are above acceptable standards," Cavallo said.

He added that the district is still working to improve those numbers but also hinted at his distaste for standardized testing.

"This is one test on one day ... it represents a new group of kids each year," he said.

Also discussed was D91's method of evaluating its teachers, which is in line with state law. First- and second-year teachers are evaluated twice annually, and third- and fourth-year teachers are evaluated once a year. The first four years are considered "probationary," and after the fourth year, if an instructor's evaluations are satisfactory, tenure is granted. If not, the instructor is fired, Cavallo said later, in a phone conversation with the Forest Park Review.

D91's healthy reserves - which total some $12 million - were also touted, and Cavallo noted that the district does not levy "as much" local tax revenue as it could. This was in response to an audience member, who asked why D91 takes the bulk of its revenue from local taxes.  He added that the district does not qualify for the amount of state money that other districts receive.

The district is also working to offer students healthier meal options. Currently, none of D91's cafeterias have cooking facilities, so prepared lunches are delivered to the schools. Cavallo said the district will either contract with another district that has cooking facilities or a company that can provide healthier options for breakfast and lunch. There is no breakfast offered at this time.

In closing, Cavallo told attendees that the board, which will be ushering in member-elect John Tricoci next month, will work to improve communication with the public, something it has struggled with in the past. During the recent election, Tricoci campaigned largely on the need for improved communication. He will replace appointed member Rafael Rosa.

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