Ongoing Racial Equity Work
Racial equity in the strategic plan. One of the six major goals in the district's 2017-2022 strategic plan is to “continuously strive to create an environment where the academic achievement and social and emotional growth of students will no longer be predictable by race, socioeconomic status, or other social factors." Among the specific strategies in this goal is to identify proven programs that reduce inequities of opportunity and enable students of color and/or low socioeconomic status to gain greater access to, and success in, college prep, honors, and AP courses.
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. The CCB recommendations for 2018-2019 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. The committee’s recommendations to the districts for 2018-2019 include inventorying current equity initiatives, hosting a joint town hall on equity as a path to excellence, and determining whether to partner on professional development for the three districts’ staffs.
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. To provide social and academic support, the school launched the Huskie Scholar Academy in 2017-2018.
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. This year we had more than 150 students who participated.
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, student performances, and an address from the principal.
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.