Update from the superintendent

November 15, 2018

Dear Oak Park and River Forest High School Students, Staff, and Families,

I want to thank you for the messages of support that so many of you have been sending as we’ve navigated the events of the past couple of weeks. This has indeed been a challenging time for the high school. But it’s also proven to be an opportunity for our entire community to come together to fight racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamicism, homophobia, and all other forms of bigotry. I’m so proud of our students, our staff, and our parents for the message you are sending out into the world: Hate has no home at OPRF.

We’ve had a calm week here on campus. I’m happy to report that students have used our anonymous tip line to text keyword OPRF to 274637 to report a couple of pieces of graffiti in washrooms. We continue to work with the Oak Park police, who in turn are working with the FBI, to investigate all such reports of hate speech on campus.

The district has been acting on our commitment to achieving racial equity for many years. Recent events have served only to strengthen our resolve to create access and opportunity for all students. I’m gratified that so many in the community are now expressing a desire to join the effort, because we can all get more done together.

Here is an update on some of the work we have been doing at the high school.

First, we have presented a racial equity policy to the Board. Over the summer Principal Nate Rouse worked on researching racial-equity policies then wrote one for D200. He presented this draft policy to the Board at at its Sept. 18, 2018, Committee of the Whole meeting. The draft policy commits the district to a variety of actions that students and community members recently have spoken in favor of. These include:

  • Using a racial equity analysis tool to review district policies, procedures, programs, and professional development.

  • Implementing culturally responsive curriculum and teaching practices that reflect the diversity of our student body.

  • Eliminating practices that lead to disproportionate representation of particular student groups in the discipline system.

  • Recruiting, hiring, and retaining staff of color to mirror our student demographics.

At the Sept. 18 meeting, the Board supported further work to refine the draft policy and asked that administration work with a team including experts in the field, just as the Gender Equity Committee did, to give input on best practices and craft clear procedures that are then agreed upon by students, internal staff, community members, etc. Formation of that team is underway. Administration will have a finalized racial equity policy and procedures to bring back to the Board no later than the end of this school year.

In the fall of 2017 we drafted a hiring protocol focused on hiring teachers of color. We realized our plan needed to be broader, and at the same Sept. 18, 2018, Board committee meeting, administrators presented the Board with a comprehensive “talent management” plan that explains how we plan to recruit, hire, and retain excellent teachers and staff. The plan says plainly: “Our recruitment strategies will focus explicitly on attracting highly effective teachers and staff with diverse backgrounds, especially teachers of color.” The plan states clearly that we intend to hire teachers and staff who view students’ existing cultural resources as assets, and who are aware of how their own identities affect their understandings.

From 2012 to 2017 our professional development focused on how to have healthy conversations about race. Our current multi-year professional development plan is focused on eliminating racial bias in classroom practices. Last year about 40 teachers received intensive training in racial equity leadership. Beginning this school year, all OPRF faculty members have been assigned to small groups led by these teachers. The groups will spend the next five years analyzing their curriculum, teaching methods, practices, processes, and classroom relationships through a racial lens and acting on their research to eliminate bias in our classrooms. In addition, this year two OPRF faculty members with an extensive background in racial equity leadership are mentoring their colleagues as racial equity coaches.

And finally, I am forming a student advisory committee that is diverse across all student demographics, including race, religion, ethnicity, etc. This new committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting before Thanksgiving break. These student advisors will play an essential role in offering input and guidance on implementing a student-initiated racial equity curriculum, as well as looking at other initiatives students have recommended, such as hiring an assistant superintendent of equity and developing student-led clubs that promote racial justice initiatives.

The racial-equity work we began years ago continues, and now with more community support than ever. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change….We need not wait to see what others do.” Oak Park and River Forest High School has the potential to be a national model in providing a just, equitable education for all our students. I welcome all in the community to help us achieve this goal.

Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams