PMSA families on idea of moving school: 'Drop it!'

Parents, students, teachers flood May 15 community meeting with concerns

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The consensus at the fifth and final facilities master plan community engagement session — held May 15 at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park — was loud, clear and expressed most stridently by Jose Espin, a PMSA parent. 

"I'm really concerned about this idea of moving PMSA into East or West," said Espin, the father of a current PMSA student and of a graduate of the magnet school. "I've been trying to wrap my head around how this is even an idea. … We will be literally killing PMSA and what it stands for. … Everyone has told me, 'If they move PMSA to either East or West, we'll pull our kids out of PMSA [and] take them to private school or move to another town.'" 

Espin said he has "a 12-year-old studying hard to make it into PMSA," then told the district, "There is no more debate to have. Drop this today. This is it." 

Although Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board President Ned Wagner said the meeting was designed to give community members a platform to share specific facility-related ideas with board members, most of the roughly two dozen people who offered public comment at the meeting echoed, in one way or another, Espin's sentiment. 

"This [meeting] is not necessarily designed to talk about whether we're closing or combining schools," Wagner said, before pointing out that those in attendance nonetheless "have the right to talk about what you feel is important to talk about." 

At the fourth community engagement session, held April 24 at PMSA, architects from Perkins + Will — the firm hired last year to facilitate the master facilities planning process — presented three concepts for each school. 

Two of the nine concepts — which were also the most unpopular among those in attendance at the meeting — called for Proviso East and Proviso West  to absorb PMSA, which would be relocated from its current campus in Forest Park to either of the two other schools. 

The architects, district administration officials and board members have repeatedly stressed that the facilities master plan process is still in the preliminary phases and that the board has not yet formally weighed in on the matter one way or another. They've also stressed that there has been no talk of actually closing PMSA as a selective enrollment institution. 

But those who spoke against the idea of relocating PMSA's physical campus said closing the school and relocating the campus is a distinction without a difference. 

"When PMSA families ask if the school will be closing, the standard response from the district is, 'No one is talking about closing the school.' Yet, the opposite is true," said Eddie Tam, a PMSA parent. 

"Moving PMSA to another host campus is the same as closing the school," Tam added. "Splitting PMSA so that it can be relocated on two separate campuses is the same as closing the school. Either of these options will destroy the culture, learning environment and mission of the school." 

During the nearly three-hour meeting, some PMSA students and faculty members lamented what they felt was the hostility between PMSA and its two facility counterparts during the master plan's early stages. They said the hostility would be exacerbated if relocating PMSA were actually carried out. 

"We believe [relocating PMSA to East or West] may cause more dismay and segregation," said Maddy Norton, a PMSA sophomore and student leader. "How would you monitor who is going into the PMSA wing?" 

Norton presented the results of a recent student-conducted survey administered at the three schools that showed that between 70 and 80 percent of PMSA students who responded believe their school is friendly, said that they are involved in extracurricular activities and believe themselves and/or their peers to be hardworking. 

Among respondents at East and West, Norton said, the percentages were significantly lower. At East and West, respectively, 46 percent and 42 percent of students felt their school was friendly; 54 percent and 46 percent said they are involved in extracurricular activities; and 46 percent and 27 percent believe themselves and/or their peers to be hardworking, Norton said. 

Fernando Ortiz, another PMSA student, said a student-conducted survey administered to 100 respondents at PMSA revealed that 75 percent of freshmen who were surveyed "reported that they'd want to leave the district if the merger happens." 

Samantha Chavez, a sophomore at PMSA who described herself as a "quirky, nerdy individual," said she feels a sense of confidence at PMSA that she wouldn't feel while attending the magnet school at East or West. 

Neal Rutstein, a PMSA math teacher, said the "animosity that has now grown up against this issue, where one school is being pitted against another, will be exacerbated" if PMSA is relocated. 

Rutstein, along with some PMSA students and community members, said their descriptions of PMSA as a more welcoming educational environment shouldn't be construed as a putdown directed to East or West; rather, they argued, the aspects at PMSA that have made it one of the best schools in the county and state, according to multiple rankings, should be duplicated at its two sister schools. 

Some PMSA faculty members said that relocating the magnet school, which first opened nearly 15 years ago, would risk upsetting a dynamic that, to this point, has been rather successful. 

"I've gotten distressed from all of this talk about moving PMSA," said Sylvia Foti, a PMSA English teacher. 

"You cannot take what has been working so well against so many odds and propose such a radical change," she said. "I was a journalist for 29 years before becoming a teacher and I believe that if you move the school, it will be a public relations disaster. Please don't move the school." 

Peter Scheidler, a PMSA math teacher, said he once worked at a small high school located in a former elementary school building in Chicago. That high school, he said, was moved into another school and "within two years that school was gone." 

"To me, hearing a school within a school concept floated is a little bit like a bad dream. I've watched students go through this terror of finding out that their school was on the chopping block," Scheidler said. 

"Thanks for having these meetings," he added. We had these meetings and people said the same line, 'No one is talking about closing schools.' That wasn't true in Chicago. It was already a done deal. The meetings were a formality. This isn't just a formality. Thank you." 

Scheidler, who said he's worked at a Proviso Township feeder district, said the prospect of getting accepted into PMSA gave his eighth-grade students something to aspire to.

But some people weren't satisfied with the narrative being focused solely on PMSA. 

"Why should I choose between paying for a private institution and crossing my fingers, hoping she's accepted into PMSA?" said Pia Davis, a Hillside resident who noted her 11-year-old granddaughter is preparing for high school. "That should not be an alternative. That is unacceptable." 

Wagner said the district will be conducting "a lot more analysis," including demographic and real estate analysis, during the summer before a final facilities master plan recommendation is possibly brought to the board sometime in November. 


Reader Comments

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Jeremy Horn  

Posted: June 2nd, 2018 12:12 AM

I was at the community forum at Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy where it was opened to the community. In my opinion...this was very similar to the education meeting that took place at Proviso West High School, where the parents and students were bashing Proviso East and Proviso West. I applaud that PMSA is doing amazing and the students worked hard for accomplishing their goal. But, the students and Proviso East and Proviso West are more intelligent and can compete than the PMSA students. If you guys don't believe me...check out this video clip of the students from Proviso East and Proviso West at the board of education meeting that took place at PMSA on May 08, 2018 and you will be moved by their speech, of how intelligent and articulate they are. The actual footage is at 3:04:15 and it ends at 3:37:35. I highly suggest that you share this clip with everyone that you know that is a parent, resident, students, and alumni. The message is "don't judge the book by its cover!"

Robert C. Cox from Forest Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2018 9:36 AM

Best Case Scenario Planning... Rather than extrapolating from the past to predictive future, scenario planning shifts the focus to preparing for a desired future and realizing ways to achieve it.Lisa Nisenson APA Planning Magazine May 2018

Mary Win Connor  

Posted: May 31st, 2018 8:11 AM

I was also at this meeting and the second most popular comment was that with the test scores at East and West being so bad the focus should be on improving the academics not moving the PMSA students. Perhaps looking at the teaching done at PMSA to see what can be adapted at East and West to help the test scores could be an option.

Amber Ladeira from Forest Park, IL  

Posted: May 31st, 2018 7:52 AM

LEAVE PMSA ALONE. It is a proven success story, one that adds stability, accomplishment, and yes, dare I say it, luster to our area. The students willing and able to do the requisite work at PMSA should not be penalized by any illogical, ultimately unproductive decision. The village (or D209 Board) ought to get their consulting fees back from Perkins + Will, the architect and design firm making these nine (-!) different proposals, most of them NOT IN THE INTEREST OF STUDENTS. Such suggestions could only come from people who care nothing for strangers--a rising epidemic locally and nationally. Put East and West together, help them to thrive--they deserve every chance to blossom; obviously I agree with Ms. Yarbrough. P.S. the expertise of P W is not precisely what D209 needs--education and accounting experts would better serve.

Jolyn Crawford  

Posted: May 30th, 2018 10:37 PM

I think the PMSA needs to be maintained and operated as it has since inception. It is accomplishing its goal in providing top shelf secondary education. Perhaps Proviso West could be operated as a vocational high school with a focus on job training and operate for profit workshops and CE open to the public like Triton College. Proviso East is historic in nature and is located on and near Cook County land and could be transformed into eco friendly learning lab for the environmental sciences; sustainability and future technology and still offer traditional secondary education.

Robert C. Cox from Forest Park  

Posted: May 30th, 2018 9:06 PM

It's ironic that I recall similar pushback in creating PMSA. You can't look backwards. "One Proviso" and equal resources to whatever combination of campuses are the way to go. Take a lesson from scenario planning and not the naysayers and outsiders. This is a long term commitment to all students that attend PTHS. Proviso will succeed not because the students who don't attend but for the students that do. I've seen that first hand in the classrooms when you have high expectations... doing nothing is no longer an option in progressive public education. I am a proud Alum Proviso East Class of 1972.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: May 30th, 2018 5:01 PM

What an excellent idea, Ms. Yarbrough. Too bad the current State Rep. from Proviso didn't bother to ever consider making an attempt to do that. I don't recall any real criticism coming from the Proviso power structure back then.

Karen Yarbrough from Maywood  

Posted: May 30th, 2018 10:09 AM

Rather than debating closing PMSA, consider making both Proviso East and West high achieving schools!

Emma-Leigh LeBlanc  

Posted: May 29th, 2018 9:49 PM

Go, Maddy Norton! As your former teacher, I applaud your efforts. Let your voice be heard! I agree whole heartedly that this proposed integration or consolidation is not in the best interest of students. Many of my students strive to get into PMSA so they can acheive the honor of graduating from a high achieving school. This plan would negate much of that for which they have worked. Let us protect what we have worked so hard to achieve.

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