Two new superintendents arrive as bumper crop of retirees depart schools

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

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.

Construction troubles

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.

Reader Comments

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Achievement Gap  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 5:08 PM

Agree with you Leroy - but why would you not hold the principals bosses accountable - the Supt and the Board? Seems that is the best way to apply the concern - as they are the ones at the Board meetings. Have you already gone through R. Lee? Heard he is very approachable as a Board member?

Leroy Johnston  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 4:57 PM

The principal is the leader of the school and if he is not lets go back to the time were the principal and supt were the same person to save 150000. If the man is not suppose to worry about the gap what is his job? My kids go there and the place is starting to look like Proviso North. I moved out of Bellwood to get away from these types of problems.

Achievement Gap  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 2:20 PM

Evaluating Administrators - Boards Job, not the taxpayers. In agreement with you Leroy, Administrators MUST be held accountable - but is job of Board. We than must hold the Board accountable to ensure this and many other things get done. As to story of year being Achievement Gap? This has been around for many years and will be around for many more. Why story of the year? As to the Principal - that is not his job - to deal with the GAP. That is job of Board and Superintendent.

Leroy Johnston: Courageous Conversations from Oak Park  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 1:31 PM

I think the story of the year is the achievement gap. A lot of articles have talked about school board members and voting them out? What has the current Principal done @ OPRF in the last 3 years? There has been no change. We had two failed searches and got stuck with a canidate. Adminstrators don't have tenure i say we start evaluating them not the board members!

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