By Terry Dean
Oak Park's two public school districts, as well as the Oak Park Township and Collaboration for Early Childhood, are looking to take a "strategic plan" approach to closing the achievement gap.
Officials from those bodies, as well as from Triton College, Dominican University and the Oak Park Community Foundation, are joining together in the effort. More than a dozen officials from those bodies participated in an achievement gap conference at Harvard University last summer.
Many from those groups presented their report from the conference at the D97 Board of Education meeting on Sept. 24.
Officials from Oak Park included Suzie Hackmiller, principal of Holmes Elementary School; D97 Supt. Albert Roberts; Amy Hill, director of assessment and research at Oak Park and River Forest High School; D200 board member Jackie Moore; and members of the Early Childhood Collaboration. Teachers from the two school districts and representatives from the Township were also present.
Both districts 200 and 97 have struggled with closing the gap between its black and white students. Both are part of the Minority Student Achievement Network, comprised of area school districts that network on educational issues, including the gap.
Oak Park's Harvard group is looking to create actions teams to implement plans from the pre-school to high school levels. While improving academics is key, closing the gap also involves a students' social and emotional development, Hackmiller noted. Addressing expectations and how students see themselves in their environment is important in raising academic levels, the group noted.
In fact, much of the Sept. 24, presentation, which lasted more than a hour, including board questions and comments, focused on reaching kids at the personal level.
Stephen Jackson, who mentors kids at Oak Park Township Youth Services, stressed that kids need to own their own education and learning. Others from the group agreed.
After the presentation, D97 board members had questions and comments but expressed support, as well as excitement, about the effort. Roberts, a veteran school administrator, said he's been in other districts that have tried to address the issue, but that he's not seen an effort like the one Oak Park is looking to do.