“Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.” This statement has been used so many times, by so many people, that it has become a clich. Unfortunately, with the actions of the District 97 School Board last week, it still rings true.
I am the proud parent of two former Irving students?#34;they are older now, and are no longer there. I am still part of the Irving School community, and as such am very concerned about the cuts to the teaching staff at Irving (and Beye, and Hatch) that were voted on last week by the D97 school Board.
When my wife and I moved into Oak Park in 1986, we were told that Irving was a “troubled” school?#34;one that wasn’t making its numbers on the achievement tests of the time. I was a graduate of the Chicago Public School system, so even a “troubled” school in Oak Park would be a better school than nearly all the schools in the Chicago Public School system.
When we started sending our kids to Irving, we found that, yes, it had some issues, but our child would be able to get a good education there. The issues that Irving had at the time were with the “at risk” kids?#34;the kids that weren’t able, for whatever reasons, to start school with the advantages that ours had. These kids need some extra help to be able to succeed, and at the time, no one in D97 had figured this out. In fact, this was about the time that the former D97 superintendent told the Irving community that, “well, someone has to be last.”
Irving has some socioeconomic and demographic issues that the other D97 schools do not have?#34;Irving is the most ethnically diverse of the D97 schools, and the Irving area has the highest transient level of the D97 schools, due to the families moving in/out of Irving’s area.
The Irving community of parents, and some of the most dedicated teachers I’ve ever seen, identified the issues facing Irving, and were able to make some suggestions for structural changes to the school, including adding teachers and programs to help the “at risk” kids succeed in school.
District 97 finally saw that Irving was going to need some extra assistance to help the school achieve what we all felt it could do, and finally supported the ideas and changes requested by the Irving community of teachers and parents.
These efforts by our extremely dedicated teaching staff at Irving have achieved some pretty good results?#34;over the years, Irving’s test scores have risen to the point that Irving has been third, fourth or fifth in just about all areas?#34;not perfect, but amazing, considering where we started from.
Which brings us to the present. D97 has a serious budget issue?#34;it’s in the red, and cannot last long in such a condition without getting the attention of the State of Illinois. So, expenses need to be cut. Teachers, obviously, are the major expense in a school system, so it’s relatively easy to just cut some teachers from schools that are “heavy” in staff?#34;meaning that they have more staff than the student/teacher guidelines indicate. Irving has been “heavy” in teaching staff because our kids have needed more support and help from our teachers to get to the achievement level that is required by the state, and now the federal governments to be successful.
The Irving community’s worry is that the present school board has forgotten exactly why Irving has more teachers than the D97 administrations’ calculations say we need. We had extra teachers, because some of the Irving kids needed extra help to succeed.
I am afraid that by losing a teacher next year, Irving may start down that “slippery slope” and start to retreat from all the gains and achievements that the parents, teachers and students have worked so hard to see over the last few years. The other ideas to attempt to cut the budget deficit were not seriously considered by the board?#34;many companies in the “real world” work very hard to cut expenses in other areas before cutting personnel or programs that benefit the people or groups that they support.
I am afraid, that in not too many years, we are going to have a hue and cry from the D97 board asking, “What’s wrong with Irving? Why are their test scores dropping, and especially from the ‘at risk’ cohort of the school population?” At this time, the Irving community will be able to tell the board, with no pleasure, “We told you so. We told you and showed you that cutting teachers from Irving was a bad idea, and would be counterproductive in the long run.”
I will take no pleasure in doing this, and hope against hope that the dedicated staff at Irving will be able to keep the school on a positive track helping our kids thrive and succeed in their grade school years. We will have to see, and we, the Irving community, will be watching, and we will remember, when it becomes time to select members for the D97 School Board at election time.
John E. Donat