The good news from a state agency's discipline audit is that if you study the Oak Park and River Forest High School discipline system isolated from all other factors, the system is fair. That's reassuring, and the community should expect no less. But if the high school and the community stop there and don't look at the entire picture, African-American students will continue to find themselves caught up in that system in disproportionate numbers.
Rather than rachet up the rhetoric in the wake of this audit, this would be the best moment for all concerned to sit again and find common ground. The defensive postures of the past two years will not bring progress for the school's administration and board or for advocacy groups such as APPLE.
The challenge here is complex. It is both a society-wide problem of expectations and culture and race, and it is a one-on-one problem Friday morning in a third floor classroom.
Even the state audit pointed out that this isn't so much a discipline issue as a cultural divide. That's why we were happy to see the report call for more "sensitivity training" for faculty and staff. Some added sensitivity from students and families would be welcome as well.
"Sensitivity training" is a bad term. It connotes a hands-off, passive, accepting approach to unruly students. What's needed here is more engagement and no passivity. OPRF needs a pro-active, preventive approach that promotes greater understanding of the cultural divide between mostly white teachers and black students, and between a school still perceived as mostly white and its black families.
Communication is the key?#34;communication between teachers and students about what's appropriate and what's not, communication between school and families about getting through to their kids, communication between the administration and parent groups like APPLE to raise the trust level which is at low ebb at the moment, communication between APPLE and families so the message comes from someone other than authority figures. And better coordination with District 97 is essential.
It's hard work, but cultural issues have to be dealt with if OPRF wants to solve the achievement gap, and discipline is as good a place to start as any. There's no alternative really.
Swenson leaves the pressure-cooker
Village Manager Carl Swenson is leaving Oak Park after nearly a decade. It's been a pressure-packed decade, but Swenson has weathered the ups and downs with remarkable aplomb. He hardly ever lost his cool, except when a member of his staff was directly attacked, and overall, he managed to put together a solid staff of dedicated professionals who handled the Oak Park pressure-cooker with almost as much grace as their boss.
He rightly prides himself as a professional manager and his accomplishments reflect that focus. The village's finances are in better order; an aggressive, yet affordable capital improvement plan is under way; he led the push for greater intergovernmental cooperation; and, sensitive to property taxpayers, he found myriad, creative ways to tax Oak Parkers with fees in order to spread the burden. His willingness to provide the village with five months' notice of his departure is a further sign of his professionalism.
There were missteps along the way. It took an inordinately long time to create a development process that didn't automatically incite neighborhood rebellions, but far more economic development has taken place in the village during Swenson's tenure than in the previous two decades.
There's something to be said for continuity, stamina, enduring long and frequent meetings, and navigating the bewildering array of personalities that make up Oak Park politics.
On balance, Carl Swenson did a good job as village manager.
We mis-identified Rick Kuner in a story last week about Village of Oak Park partner agencies.
The Housing Authority and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center are two different organizations. Edy Burton is the chair of the Housing Authority, while Kuner is president of the Housing Center's board.
Wednesday Journal regrets the error.