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By Terry Dean
2010 wraps up one of the busiest years for school districts in memory for Oak Park and River Forest. Superintendents in Oak Park came and went, along with a slew of teachers and administrators often owing to retirements.
The year was filled with good happenings—such as parents and citizens coming together to address drug use among students at Oak Park and River Forest High school.
And there were the not-so-good ones—the village, high school and OPRF embroiled in a lawsuit over tax increment financing. Among the other noteworthy items for 2010:
Two new superintendents
Both Oak Park school districts saw the arrival of two new superintendents: Albert Roberts in District 97 and Steven Isoye at OPRF.
Both men, along with their counterpart in River Forest, Thomas Hagerman have talked of ways all three districts can work together better. That includes sharing data and transitioning kids smoothly through the school systems.
A referendum for District 97
District 97's school board also made the commitment to run a referendum in spring 2011. The decision came after making cuts over the last 10 years and having not run a referendum for operating funds since 1989. The ballot measure is set for April 5.
More than 50 retire
More than 50 teachers retired from District 97 and OPRF this summer, taking advantage of the closing window of a generous state early retirement program. Several administrators at OPRF and District 97 also retired this summer. The high school went on to hire several new division chairs and directors, including for special education.
A statewide construction strike halted projects across Illinois, including at school districts in the midst of renovations. OPRF was among them. The July strike lasted a couple of weeks, resulting in some OPRF projects not being completed in time for the start of the 2010-11 school year.
Making matters worse, the boys and girls swimming pools have remained closed to date. After failing to secure a proper permit to work on the pools, the school's construction firm, Wight and Company, was fined $20,000 by the Illinois Public Health Department. The fallout came to a head on Dec. 16, when the OPRF school board decided to hire a new construction firm to serve as its architect and consultant for future projects.
Training materials spark controversy
Beye Elementary School was the site of controversy this spring involving educational materials that some parents felt were inappropriate for small children.
It all began in August 2009 when Beye invited a pro-gay family advocate to help train teachers about homosexuality and same-sex families. A video and reading materials were used as part of the training. A group of parents objected to the speaker and materials, insisting that kids under age 11 are too young to be introduced to such topics.
Supporters, meanwhile, argued that the training was done to address a growing issue among some kids who were using certain terms related to homosexuality in a negative and disrespectful way toward their peers. As a compromise, the reading materials remained in the school's library for general use. The video also remained at Beye but was restricted for staff use with small groups of students only. Parents who object could opt out of their children viewing the video.
And a few odds and ends
The year saw a handful of quirky school-related stories as well.
Parents from Beye School this summer participated in an Amazing Race-style game for a PTO fundraiser. District 97 school board President Peter Traczyk, a Beye parent, was among the participants. As a practical joke, the participants were fooled to think that they had to eat a cup of real worms as their first task. They didn't have to, but Traczyk took the bait, literally, and gulped down his worms. For being a good sport, his team was given two extra points to start.
Jennifer Murtoff, an Oak Park resident, saw her urban chicken consulting business take off this year. That includes appearances on local Chicago area television and newspapers — including Wednesday Journal in May as she worked through a local school to help an Oak Park family set up their backyard garden with small baby chicks.
Whittier elementary school's PTO won the first ever District 97 Tasty Dog Challenge this spring. Combined, the schools earned a total of $3,331 based on a percentage of the total sales generated by customers representing various schools.