Talk up our schools

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Forest Park's elementary schools have a good story to tell. And finally they are figuring out that it is a story that won't tell itself. In a time when negative energy permeates our entire culture, when social media is the coursing path of simple-minded meanness and inaccuracy, whether the topic is national politics or local school test scores, Forest Park's District 91 elementary and middle schools have, too often, been on the receiving end. 

Beware and reject any Facebook comment that looks longingly back at a D91 utopia that never existed. Just last week there was a comment lamenting that things haven't been the same since "Art and Joe." This is a reference to Art Jones and Joe Scolire who served as superintendents well back into the last century.

Give it up, folks. Snap out of it. It's 2019. Our schools are good. Everyone acknowledges they're not great. There are problems; there are challenges. But the number one problem we see generally in public education is stagnation and that is nowhere in evidence in this school district.

In an annual State of the District presentation, May 15, Supt. Louis Cavallo and colleagues explained the wide range of initiatives the small district is taking to confront its challenges. 

This year we are enthusiastic about the determined effort to embed racial equity into all aspects of life in our schools — cue the FB comments about the good old days when all the students were white and above average. The "equity imperative" is bold and necessary. The next year will see every staff member in the district receive training in how to be open to the reality of how race plays out every day in our schools and in our lives. 

As Cavallo said, "It's more than an equity imperative; it's a moral imperative; it's the right thing to do."

D91 continues to take a wide range of steps — curriculum revisions, added math coaches, class scheduling more focused on math, new ways of assessing students to make faster adjustments — that make plain a determination to improve the education of every student in the district.

The troubling drop in enrollment is offering up the opportunity for the district to expand much-needed preschool seats as well as more after-school programs. The second year of the Power Scholars Academy summer program is exciting on so many fronts. The partnership between Forest Park and River Forest public schools is groundbreaking. The key role played in this program by the West Cook YMCA is gratifying.

The district has also finally grasped that it is responsible for shaping the perception of these schools in our community, and among potential D91 families. New efforts at telling the story of our schools in the community and engaging the wider community — think Kindness Week — are starting to work. And Cavallo, whose reputation among district families as being accessible and connective is weak, made a fundamental request last week of those families. "Talk up our schools," he said.

We believe these schools have earned that. We know that the trash talk that has been delivered in the past by some prominent people in town has been destructive and unfair. Everyone in town, from Mayor Hoskins to landlords to merchants, would do well to talk up our schools. 

Reader Comments

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Michelle Woehrle  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 11:39 AM

It is hard to imagine a more off base comment than suggesting we don't have neighborhood schools, or that putting the children AT the schools now at the center of decision making is not the right course. This isn't Chicago; it is a small town. An able bodied person can walk from one end to the other with no problem and our schools are neighborhood schools, still. I'm speaking as a CURRENT D91 parent. I'm pleased with the advocacy that keeps pushing the schools to be responsive to the needs of the current students and the future rather than a knee-jerk desire for days of yore (which are idealized beyond recognition).

John Tricoci Sr  

Posted: June 4th, 2019 2:49 PM

How is it unfair to want neighborhood schools again ? The good old days was about the leadership of the district not the make up of the students.

Frank Hansen  

Posted: June 4th, 2019 9:53 AM

Regarding boring arithmetic from "the good old days": mastery of basic math skills without the aid of a calculator, e.g. knowing the multiplication tables cold, which leads to being able to manipulate fractions, are still absolutely essential in the age of cheap calculators. Without those skills grammar school students will face a largely insurmountable challenge when they take algebra in middle school or high school. Granted, not everyone will be so lucky as to have a job that requires calculus. Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom is that a good grade in high school algebra is a very strong predictor of successfully completing the 1st year of college, even for non-science majors. No one can know what third or 4th graders' dreams and talents will blossom a few years later. Educators have a responsibility to not shut the door on the multitude of possibilities that lead from mastery of basic math skills. I urge parents and their kids to put the calculators back in the drawer.

Mary Richie from Forest Park  

Posted: June 3rd, 2019 5:49 PM

As a retired teacher of the River Forest Schools and a long time resident of Forest Park I continue t o take an active interest in our local schools, and am impressed with what I've noticed whenever in our local schools , and with what I've continued t o read about the School Boards and Administrators. Times are changing radically and the needs of our young students are changing wit h them. As a new teacher in second and third grades we spent almost a year trying to teach kids how to add long columns of three digit numbers, now as adults we all just use cheap and readily calculators. available. The children in today's schools will have to have skills needed in the twenty-second century. "the good old days" just won't cut it for tomorrow's leaders.

Jeremy Horn  

Posted: June 2nd, 2019 9:10 PM

I definitely enjoyed this article. This article is very similar to what's going on with District 209 with the high schools of Proviso East and Proviso West, that far too long have been stereotyped for decades as a "horrible school" with low expectations of students. When I am typing this up, it reminds me when me and along with other residents in Forest Park toured Proviso East High School, and they were so amazed with the cultural history and legacy of the building. Principal Dr. Patrick J. Hardy was absolutely brilliant and charismatic on the significant changes that him and his staff did, and the residents was absolutely blown away. It also brought tears to my eyes, as a resident for 34 years, I never thought in my life that I would witnessed this moment. I do use the power of social media via Facebook to promote the positivity of what's going on in my beloved high school alma mater, and the benefits have been so rewarding. And, we have the "Parent and Community Engagement Committee" at East and West, where parents are boots to the ground, rolling up their sleeves, getting their hands dirty to build a relationship with the schools and teachers. One parent coordinator stated at the District 209 Board of Education meeting, "it will make a huge impact in the child's future. Take the time, make the commitment, and be an active participant in your child's education, our schools, to bring solutions to our concerns. Those who make excuses and point fingers, never accomplish anything."

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