OPRF Community Caucus candidate search is inclusive

Opinion

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It was reported in the Jan. 26 edition of WEDNESDAY JOURNAL that the Oak Park River Forest High School (OPRFHS) APPLE organization will mount its own independent process to identify school board candidates for the high school ("Disaffected OPRF supporter pledges spirited election challenge"). As the Chair and Vice-Chair of the most recent OPRF Community Caucus whose purpose is to do just that, we'd like to respond to this. We hope that Mrs. Johnson is not objecting to the Community Caucus process.

The purpose of the Community Caucus is to identify, interview and endorse individuals who want to run for the District 200 (OPRFHS) Board of Education. The work of the Caucus takes months of planning and lasts only for a few weeks, but the impact of our efforts is felt for years as each board member elected serves a four year term.

This year was the first for us in leading the caucus group. We understood the importance of performing our due diligence and the caucus delegates similarly assumed their responsibilities with the sober discipline fellow citizens would hope and expect from their neighbors and friends.

Selecting caucus delegates was done with purpose so that it remained inclusive and represented the student body demographics. Twenty six people from Oak Park and River Forest formed a diverse caucus membership.

In the past, there had been some criticism for having the same caucus members interview candidates each year. So, we rose to the challenge to identify delegates who could bring a new perspective and new ideas to the interviewing process. In fact, over 90 percent of the caucus delegates were attending the District 200 Caucus for the first time, which means we had fresh eyes and ears listening, questioning and debating who could best represent our community, our students and our fiduciary interests on the Board of Education. Of course, all high school parent groups were represented on the Caucus, i.e., Boosters, Citizens Council, PTO and APPLE, the latter being the organization of which Mrs. Johnson is co-president. We had alumnae, current and future parents and those whose children had graduated from the high school recently or a long time ago, as well as current and former teachers.

The caucus process is a democratic one that interviews board candidates on a wide variety of district issues and identifies the candidates who are willing to represent the views of all students. As you can imagine, when you gather delegates together from a variety of backgrounds and ask them to voice their opinions, you get diversity of thought too. But, there was consensus on one key point. School board candidates who present themselves on a platform with a single agenda would not be appropriate candidates. The board must deal with a variety of educational, operational and financial issues and must serve all students. To allow any board member to only focus on their personal agenda is a disservice to us and places an unfair burden on the remaining board members who must carry the rest of the load.

For the upcoming April 5 election, the caucus interviewed five candidates for four open positions. After vigorous debate, the caucus slated those candidates who they deemed the most highly qualified, which ended up being only three people: John Rigas, Paul Wolfman and Jacques Conway. These candidates subsequently sought a fourth person to fill out their slate and asked Valerie Fisher, former District 200 Board of Education member, to rerun with them.

As members of the caucus we agreed to maintain confidentiality of individuals who came before the caucus but were not slated. This agreement would be broken only if the prospective candidate him/herself divulged this information. Both of the independent candidates have in fact done this.

We note that Mrs. Johnson has been actively engaged on the caucus herself. She personally sat on the caucus two years ago that got three of the current school board members elected who are now in the middle of their first term. Additionally, she personally agreed to the individual who represented the APPLE organization on this year's Caucus.

Therefore, we welcome Mrs. Johnson's desire to increase the field of candidates for the Board of Education. We hope, however, that APPLE will continue to be an active and enthusiastic participant in the Community Caucus process, as it has over the past several elections.
Karen Date, caucus chair and
Joan Winstein, caucus vice-chair

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