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We get that some members of the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School still have a bitter taste in their mouths over a previous case of "Intergovernmental Agreements from Hell." That TIF agreement between the high school, the elementary schools and the Oak Park village government was a doozy of over-conceptualizing and under-clarifying and it led to a nasty lawsuit that we've long thought District 200 overplayed.
But we're over it and we expect the leaders of our public high school to get over it, too. That is, unless they're ready to say they'll never enter a collaborative agreement with other local taxing bodies again. Unless they're ready to say they're too hesitant to enter into a pact that is focused solely on the root cause of the greatest educational challenge the high school faces — that being the academic achievement gap between black and white students, between middle class and poorer students.
Last week the leaders of the Collaboration for Early Childhood came again to the D200 school board to answer questions about its bold and necessary plan to begin active, targeted outreach to Oak Park families with very young children who are at risk of falling behind academically and socially. Already the District 97 elementary schools and the village government are on board with funding for this initiative. And while the plan has supporters on the high school board, there is still something holding the board back. While we appreciate the school board's pointed questions and are impressed by the Collaboration leadership's ability to respond smartly, the time is here for OPRF to sign on as a full partner in this vital effort.
A segment of our youngest children fall behind before pre-K ever starts and by the time they stumble into the high school, the gap is nearly guaranteed. Finding a way to intervene early in these lives is essential. We know our high school has the financial wherewithal. We are certain that a better, clearer, more measurable pact can be forged among the funders and the Collaboration.
Now it is time to act. As D200 board member John Phelan said last week, the school should not miss its "window of opportunity" to invest in this effort.