Why on earth would anyone want to run for public office in Oak Park? It is a thankless job. The meetings are interminable. Citizens take potshots, and the press?#34;which wants to sell newspapers?#34;is rarely happy.
Having done it once, I would rather be dipped in a vat of boiling oil than run again because our local elections can get pretty nasty. In the upcoming school board elections there will be the usual secret alliances, whispering campaigns, charges, counter-charges, a bit of dirty pool, along with a few claims of racism, homophobia and the scary specter that some candidates are trying to take over "our schools."
The outstanding issues for District 97 candidates remain academic achievement, particularly the under achievement of many African American students and the failure to challenge students at the upper end of the achievement bar, behavior problems?#34;particularly in the Middle Schools?#34;and district finances.
A few years ago I ran for the District 97 Board and lost to one of the incumbents now running for reelection, Carolyn Newbury-Schwartz. For this, I thank my lucky stars, particularly when I read about board meetings lasting until midnight.
When I ran four years ago, my focus was on improving academic achievement and replacing the board's "what me worry" attitude about finances. To its credit, the board did so, albeit reluctantly. While there is still more responsible budget cutting that could be done, the board has taken a stab at temporarily staving off another tax hike.
Classroom behavior is a problem at the Middle Schools, which is predictable in schools built to house 900 students. The Middle Schools are making strides at clamping down, which I fully support, but they need to do more. Some teachers, even experienced ones, need additional support to maintain classroom peace. Parents, including me, need to sit on our rambunctious kids and reinforce the message at home. One structural problem is that the Middle Schools have "exploratory" nine week long classes where teachers, who are understandably unfamiliar with rotating kids, have problems keeping control.
A District 97 committee recently recommended keeping six graders separate from seventh and eighth graders, presumably out of a fear of bullying. You cannot create a school community if you expect the inmates to behave like prisoners. By keeping the kids separate, you reduce the downside risk of bullying, but eliminate the possibility that well-behaved and academically enthused upper classmen will mentor younger students and create a school?#34;as opposed to a class community of learners.
Academic achievement remains uneven. Great teachers?#34;and there are quite a few in District 97?#34;get great results, often because they stretch beyond the existing curriculum. Weak teachers hide behind the tenure system and bide time in the classroom.
I do not purport to know all of the people running for the District 97 or High School Boards. Here are several people that I know and support: Vic Guarino and Julie Blankenship for District 97 and Dee Millard for District 200. Vic is an Engineer at Argonne Laboratories. He has been involved in the Irving PTO, which has gone beyond normal PTO boosterism to work on the achievement gap at Irving. I know Julie Blankemeier from the St. Giles Community Mass. Julie is a physician who is a full-time mom with four students at Holmes School. She would make a fine board member.
As for District 200, the High School does a better job at addressing the achievement gap issues that they inherit than the Middle Schools. At District 200, the recent talk is whether the school is being too tough on discipline, which?#34;all things considered?#34;is not such a bad place to be. However, the High School Board needs some fresh thinking.
For High School Board, I support Dee Millard, a physician at Children's Memorial Hospital, who I have known for many years. Dee took my daughter on the first High School trip to India, which Dee and her husband have run for some years. My daughter remembers this as a high point in her life. Dee is a smart person and may be just what High School Board needs.
That's it for now. Tune in next time for my take on the Village Board elections, when I will ask the questions: is someone as cranky as me competent to hold public office in Oak Park and is Bob Milstein?