It's Thanksgiving week and for those of us with the good fortune and smarts to live in Oak Park and River Forest, we begin and end with thanks for our towns, for the extraordinary sense of community, for the willingness to embrace and to battle, to invest and to create, which these villages embody.
This Thanksgiving we are grateful for new leaders in both villages. Anan Abu-Taleb and Cathy Adduci, the respective new presidents of Oak Park and River Forest, are clearly different in their backgrounds and priorities for our villages than those who preceded them. Abu-Taleb with his business experience, Adduci with her big corporate background, bring new energy and ideas to economic growth in our towns and they bring a service sensibility, challenging a governmental mindset that Oak Park had clearly fallen into.
Both have had bumps in their first months — mainly internal and mainly from those who would like to slow them down some. But the progress has been genuine and the need to drive change is powerful and overdue and we thank them for their service.
We are thankful for new leadership at Oak Park and River Forest High School where we see honest talk about the school's cornucopia of cash reserves, acknowledgement of the disconnect that over-taxing has created in the villages, and a direct approach to finding a path that respects the bill-payers while making long-term investments in the school facility.
And next, with the capable leadership of school administration, we hope to see bolder efforts still in taking on issues of academic challenge among African-American students at the school. It is a national problem. Oak Park and River Forest have spent 40 years preparing to tackle it in ways only we can.
The best indication that our towns are unique in our potential to take on the gap was the remarkable choice this year to pool money among the Oak Park school districts and Oak Park's village government and to seriously fund a breakthrough effort to reach at-risk kids in their very earliest years. Every person knows those are the essential years to teach kids, to provide services, to connect with families. Now Oak Park has a program that will do just that.
The "achievement gap" starts at age 2. And now, remarkably, Oak Parkers are funding a caring intervention that has a true potential for child-by-child success.
The joint effort in early childhood education is just one indication of collaboration among our taxing overlords. We believe our elected officials have, for the first time, truly grasped that the tax burden is in and of itself a true threat to our villages.
Here are many things we are thankful for in 2013: The Gymnastics and Recreation Center, constructed handsomely by the park district at Lake and Humphrey. A smart investment in a burgeoning program and built at a spot that needed an anchor. And we can't wait for Ridgeland Common to reopen in 2014. … The Grove Apartments are open and providing new affordable housing for our neighbors. Great work by the Housing Authority and its partners. … The real estate market is finally turning up. … People are talking to each other as if we were neighbors across Austin Boulevard. Oh, that's right, we are neighbors. … Illinois gets gay marriage thanks in part to key votes by local legislators, lobbied hard by a proudly diverse Oak Park. … We are the towns we are because of our social services and non-profits. We can never thank them enough for their work.
Finally, we are thankful for our readers and our advertisers. There are no better towns to cover than Oak Park and River Forest.
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