Ongoing Racial Equity Work

Racial equity policy. In April 2019, the Board approved new policy 7:12 Racial Equity, which was developed by a committee of administrators, faculty, staff, students, and community members. The policy holds the district accountable for eliminating racially predictable disparities in achievement; specific procedures to enact the policy will be in place in December 2019.

Racial equity in the strategic plan. Of the four major priorities in the district's 2017-2022 strategic plan, Priority 1 is Racial Equity, to “eliminate race, socioeconomic status, and other social factors as predictors of students' academic achievement and social emotional growth." To see the 2019-2020 strategic goals for this priority, click here.

CARE teams. As part of our six-year professional development plan to eliminate racial bias in classroom practices, approximately 40 teachers received intensive training as Collaborative Action Research for Equity (CARE) team leaders. All OPRF teachers are assigned to small groups of faculty members with CARE team leaders, and are spending five years analyzing their curriculum, teaching methods, practices, processes, and classroom relationships through a racial lens. By focusing on classroom factors that affect students most directly, the goal is to eliminate racial bias in instruction. Administrators also are participating in their own CARE team.

Individual racial equity coaching. Two OPRF faculty members with an extensive background in racial equity leadership work one-on-one with teachers to help develop healthy racial consciousness, apply racial-equity concepts in their classroom relationships and teaching practices, and promote a culture of high expectations for all students.

Culture, Climate, and Behavior Committee (CCB). In 2016, the Board appointed CCB, which comprises Board members, administrators, staff, students, parents, and representatives from our two feeder elementary districts. The charge to CCB was to recommend ways to eliminate disproportionate discipline for students of color and create a welcoming environment for all students. CCB recommendations include recruiting and retaining diverse staff, researching the root causes of and addressing the racial disparities in student tardiness, and implementing restorative justice practices.

Tri-Equity Board Committee. The high school has two elementary feeder districts, River Forest School District 90 and Oak Park Elementary School District 97. In spring 2017, the boards of Districts 90, 97, and 200 held a joint community forum to share the work each district is doing around equity. An outcome of the meeting was that the three boards voted in favor of creating the Tri-Equity Board Committee, with representatives from each board, to better coordinate efforts among the districts. 

Improved hiring practices. The demographics of our teaching staff, which is about 80 percent white, do not reflect the demographics of our students, who are 44 percent young people of color. The district's strategic plan calls for increasing representation of minority teachers to 35% of the overall faculty by July 2024. 

Student Advisory Committee. Diverse across all student demographics, including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc., the committee plays an essential role in advising the superintendent on equity-related issues.

Courageous Conversations about Race. Over the course of 2012-2017, the district’s nearly 400 faculty and administrators each participated in this year-long professional development series on racial equity. Involving personal reflection on participants’ own racial identities, the series was aimed at helping engage in and deepen interracial dialogue about race, school policies, programs, and practices, and how these affect student learning. We continue to hold shorter, intensive trainings based on this series each year, with all new employees participating. We also have an after-school series called Courageous Conversations about Race, open to all staff who want to develop their racial consciousness.

Outreach coordinator. Established nearly a decade ago, this position provides support for and encourages the engagement of parents, particularly those of underachieving students, via one-to-one outreach and a program of educational workshops.

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) development for all. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a nationally created, implemented, and assessed pre-engineering STEM curriculum. We have intentionally implemented PLTW in an equitable fashion from the start, opting to keep the courses as part of general curriculum open to all and not restricting it to the honors level. The efforts of our teachers and counselors has encouraged and supported proportionate representation, by all students. Of the students in PLTW courses, 16% are from Special Education, which is the same as the entire school, and 25-30% are African American students, also mirroring the overall school demographic.

In addition, the division head of science and technology is a key collaborator with Concordia University as part of a planning grant aimed at increasing the number of students of color in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce.

Increased access to higher level classes. As at other U.S. high schools, the students in higher-level courses at OPRF tend to be disproportionately white. This isn’t because students of color can’t succeed. Rather, too often they have not been recommended for or encouraged to take honors and AP classes. The high school is working with counselors and teachers to identify and recommend these unrecognized students for higher-level classes. 

Revised student dress code. Responding to student input that the dress code and its enforcement treated students differently by gender and race, the principal worked with a team of students to revamp the code for the 2018-2019 school year. The dress code now avoids any reference to gender-specific clothing and states that the code will be enforced “consistently and in a manner that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group.” 

Laptops for every student. Rolled out in 2016-2017, our 1:1 technology program provides all students with a district-owned Chromebook computer to use at school and home during their four years with us. Our goal is to make sure that every student is fully prepared for their future in a global, digital world where they will be expected to use information and technology to create, examine, explore, communicate, and collaborate. We also provided free wireless access devices for students lacking wifi at home.

Spoken Word and Black literature developer. More than a decade ago, OPRF was an innovator in creating this full-time teaching position to support poetry instruction and develop black literature units for English classes. We also have a Spoken Word poetry club. Elevating students' voices and positively acknowledging their experiences has increased student connections to school programs and culture. We also have seen more infusion of underrepresented writers in the English curriculum.

Hip Hop Club. This activity was introduced in 2013 to allow students to express their wide variety of talents through musical and dance expression. Hip Hop was born within the African American and Latino communities as a vehicle of creativity, and the club helps minority students in particular to get involved and feel more ownership in the school. More recently the club expanded into Rhymes, Beats & Life, an activity at the Oak Park Public Library to work with an even wider range of tweens and teens. 

Motivational Mentors. This lunch-time mentoring program helps students navigate the demands of life, both inside and outside of school, to foster positive life choices and outcomes.

Black Professionals Day. Although open to all students, this annual half-day conference focuses on career experiences for African American students by providing an opportunity to hear from and converse with African American representatives of various professions.  The goal is to provide post-secondary options, pathways, and connections for our students, especially those who are African American.    

National African American Parent Involvement Day (NAAPID) dinner. Launched in 1996 by Dr. Joseph Dulin, a principal in Ann Arbor, Mich., Public Schools, NAAPID is a national call to action to get parents, particularly those of children of African descent, more involved in their children's educational lives. Each year we host a complimentary dinner, open to all, that features delicious food and student performances.

Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). OPRF is a founding and active member of MSAN, a national coalition of multiracial school districts that have come together to understand and eliminate opportunity gaps that persist in their schools. Administrators and faculty participate in MSAN conferences each year, and we also have a student MSAN group that focuses on issues of racial inequity from a student perspective. 

Additional Pupil Support Services (PSS) team. To enhance the level of counseling and social work services and provide equitable access to those services for more students, the Board approved hiring five full-time employees to staff an additional full PSS team in 2015-2016. The extra staffing has meant that each student has no less than two contacts per year with a member of their PSS team.

Imagine OPRF Facilities Project 1. In December 2018, the Board approved the most comprehensive facilities project in 50 years. During focus groups in the conceptual design phase, a key finding was that students, and particularly students of color, need a space where they feel welcome, safe, and free to gather, study, and collaborate. As a result, a key part of Project 1 will be the first phase of creating a student commons.