Achieving the vision of engaged learning at OPRF

Opinion: Columns

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Jeff Weissglass

Oak Park and River Forest High School is an extraordinary institution at the heart of our broadly diverse community. With 3,200 students, 500 employees, 1 million square feet of space, and an annual budget of over $70 million, the work of leading the institution is complex. More importantly, the wide range of backgrounds of our students confronts us with a multitude of challenges in our goal to provide each and every student with a superior education.

Over the last 20 years I have been involved in education and diversity work with local nonprofits, and I currently work with national organizations focused on political bridge-building, including issues of education. I also had early careers in community development banking and corporate law, and have chaired two national nonprofit boards. I have experience in finance and organizational development and, most importantly, I am committed to balancing interests and building consensus, skills that I believe are vital to the future success of OPRF High School.

My vision for OPRF is that every student comes to school every day and feels fully engaged in his or her learning. We must build a dynamic environment that provides the strong relationships and individualized attention that are vital to student success. We need a greater openness to innovation in both curriculum and technology; improved connections with the elementary schools, colleges, and early childhood efforts that make up our students' continuum of learning; and stronger partnerships with families and community members. Achieving that vision will require a highly collaborative effort among our teachers, administration, parents and community, and I look forward to helping foster that work.

Unfortunately, trust between the school and the community has been eroded in recent years, in part due to the size of District 200's fund balance and the taxes that helped build it. To resolve those tensions, we need a robust community-wide conversation about OPRF's overall financial stability, the size of future levies and fund balances, and the timing of an eventual referendum. The board has just established a Financial Advisory Committee to pursue those conversations, and I will strongly support that effort as a board member.

Leading the school in this next phase of educational innovation and excellence, high engagement, and increasing trust will take thoughtfulness, perseverance, relationship-building, perspective, and a commitment to collaboration. The board must do that work while remaining clear on its core responsibilities: hire and evaluate the superintendent; set and monitor strategic direction and overall policy; and assure the financial stability of the school, balanced with the financial needs of the entire community.

I believe my skills and experience in education, diversity, finance, board leadership, and consensus-building will make me a strong board member. I hope you will vote for me on April 9.

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