District 97 Superintendent Al Roberts makes his mark on Oak Park in 2012

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Not all of his moves have been universally supported, like the half-million-dollar purchase early this year of the FastForWord program, a computer-based intervention to help struggling students. Roberts was able to persuade his school board to support it despite questions from board members and parents. Some D97 families have asked to opt out of that program.

But the former suburban Detroit superintendent has garnered praise from his board. He also put his stamp on other initiatives in his two years here. Playground renovations are routine in school districts, but Roberts advocated for more ambitious — and more expensive — schoolyard improvements. He pushed for and got rubberized surfaces added to every playground for safety purposes.

Roberts has also worked to expand the district's technology plan, even exploring how student cellphones might be used in the classroom — for educational purposes only. D97 was well on the path to pursuing a tax hike referendum before Roberts' hiring in summer 2010. He insisted that the dollars from the referendum — passed in spring 2011 — would be used to back new ideas and new initiatives.

Roberts and the board are not universally popular with parents and staff. A D97 climate survey, released in November, showed poor performance marks for Roberts and the board. Among the roughly 760 parents and 360 faculty who took the survey, 59 percent rated the board's performance as good or excellent. Roberts' performance scored lower at 54 percent.

But the school board clearly likes what they've seen. In September, they gave Roberts a three-year contract extension and a 2 percent raise.

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