Four years ago Oak Park and River Forest High School faced a "change" election. And we endorsed John Allen, Ralph Lee and Sharon Patchak-Layman to be the agents of that essential change. Now, in 2011, District 200 needs to follow through on the changes initiated over the past years, and we enthusiastically endorse this same trio for re-election.
In 2007 we endorsed these first-time candidates for District 200 (Patchak-Layman served previously on the District 97 school board). We noted then that new voices and faces were needed to change a governance culture that was hidebound and increasingly ineffective. Patchak-Layman, Lee, and Allen have exceeded our expectations.
Overall the current board has seen its share of tensions — all three incumbents acknowledge that. That will happen when you are willing to take on the big issues in an institution averse to conflict. That's why the administration has been rebuilt, why there is a batch of new division chairs from outside the school. It's why the approach to discipline has been rethought and why data is now the basis for many difficult choices. It explains why, after years of denial, a frank discussion of drug and alcohol abuse is underway.
We believe the groundwork has been laid for OPRF to blossom in the coming years with changing expectations of how faculty teach the full spectrum of students at the school, with technology thoughtfully and aggressively layered into instruction, with, finally, a bolder approach to the achievement gap. The hiring of Superintendent Steven Isoye is the culmination of the positive changes at the school.
This is not to say that we have always agreed with the incumbents or the full board on key issues. The high school's lawsuit vs. the village and elementary schools is absurd and needs to be settled. OPRF has been running up preposterous fund balances by taking property taxes at a level far higher than is justifiable.
The true test, though, of this board, and a key reason we are endorsing this trio, is the coming negotiations on a new teacher contract. A far too rich five-year contract was signed by a previous board. Now we need a new, shorter contract that melds both fiscal restraint and education reforms including merit pay. Allen, Lee and Patchak-Layman are the best hope for a fair contract.
As for the challengers, all three are sincere but lack any strong vision for the school. Margaret Lattner Skiver is an OPRF parent who knows the difficulties of navigating the system if your kids are smart but fall within that realm between high- and low-achieving students. John Bokum is a long-time board watcher and frequent visitor to the monthly meetings. He is also a former OPRF employee and parent, giving him more of an understanding of how the school works than most candidates. John Phelan is the best of the challengers. He has been a volunteer coach at OPRF and also has children attending there. He has interests and insight on a wide range of issues.
But the incumbents have earned another term on the OPRF school board. This time around, we believe voters would be wise to stay the course.