Moore, Weissglass, Cofsky, McQueen for District 200 board

Opinion: Editorials

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Simply, we cannot recall an election where there are so many outstanding candidates as this spring in the race for the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School. There are four seats open — a majority. There are six candidates we could endorse enthusiastically. And there are another three candidates we think of very highly.

OPRF is the most critical institution in our communities at this juncture. With a strategic plan in the making, a teachers contract a year away, a building infrastructure draft circulating, a superintendent coming into his own after two years, a new financial leader to be hired, oversized cash reserves banked, a focus on early childhood education backed, and a racial achievement gap that frustrates, the choices our villages make in this election are key to District 200's future.

Our choices after interviewing 11 of the 13 candidates for the school board are Jackie Moore, Jeff Weissglass, Tom Cofsky and Melanie MacQueen. Individually and collectively we believe this group will provide the school board with a broad range of talent and perspective that will strengthen OPRF.

Jackie Moore has been an active citizen volunteer in our schools for many years. She worked on the District 97 strategic plan, Oak Park's diversity task force, the rejuvenation of the high school's PTO, the board of the Collaboration for Early Childhood. With her background as a developmental psychologist, she has volunteered at Sarah's Inn and Thrive Counseling Center. While Moore celebrates OPRF's accomplishments, she is straightforward in laying out challenges ahead: higher and broader academic expectations, stronger efforts to involve more parents as advocates for their children, recognition that longevity is not the only measure of faculty success. Moore is a clear-headed realist with a fundamentally positive approach. She has the potential to be an exceptional member of this school board.

Jeff Weissglass, like Moore, served on the board of the Collaboration and brings an adult life focused on matters of educational and cultural equity. A lawyer and consultant to nonprofits, he has watched the current D200 board with some concern. He sees a lack of cohesion, an erosion of community trust, owing to the financial reserves and last year's TIF lawsuit. He sees opportunities to regain that trust and urges the school board to listen better to a wider group of people. "They talk too much to themselves," he notes. Weissglass will bring needed financial experience to a board light on that skill set, too. As have others, he sees the D97 school board as a positive model of inclusion; slow, steady progress; and effective collaboration with other local governments. Weissglass will be a bright and steady presence on this board.

Tom Cofsky is a business person who understands that education is not the same as running a corporation — except when it is. And it's like a corporation when you set long-term goals, create a plan to get there, involve a lot of different people in making the plan, value the opinions of the people you are working with, make adjustments along the way and recognize the complexity of the endeavor. A member of the high school's Financial Advisory Leadership Team for two years, he has a wide understanding of the school's budget and a critical eye on the challenges of its future finances. Cofsky, though, is so much broader in his view of the high school than just seeing it through a finance lens. He is perceptive on race and the gap, on ways to create an atmosphere for learning, on how to engage faculty and the community more fully. Cofsky is a new face to us and we admire his approach.

Melanie MacQueen is the mostly unheralded choice in our slate of endorsed candidates. She is an active school parent and volunteer who understands the essential nature of the connection between home and school. She knows from her experience and that of parents she represents that the connection is frayed at OPRF — particularly, though not exclusively, between the school and African-American parents. "I love my parents," she says. "My being on the board will give a voice to parents and the community." We agree and we find that voice to be fair and clear and smart and honest. Over time, MacQueen will sharpen her school budget skills. But on day one she will be able to explain why a black mom is not comfortable in the halls of OPRF, advocating for her child with a teacher, and why closing the achievement gap won't be possible until we close the parent gap.

Those are our choices. But you won't go wrong voting for Terry Finnegan, the lone incumbent on the board. Finnegan has done strong work on a tough board during challenging times. And if he weren't so darned ambivalent about making this race we'd endorse him. For his part, Finnegan seems content to serve out his term and then depart if he is confident that capable, talented people will follow him. Given the roster of candidates we are confident he will be replaced by a person of equal talent and greater energy.

In a typical year — one with fewer great candidates — we would also happily endorse Eric Davis. Currently an Oak Park Township trustee, Davis has proven that he can be both a change agent and a collegial presence on an elected board. That is no mean trick. He has a good knowledge of the school, earned through the township's vital support of the Township Youth Interventionist program and his own participation in OPRF's infrastructure planning committee. An architect by trade, Davis brings creative thinking to problem-solving situations.

In our second tier are three candidates we wouldn't endorse but whom we admire.

Steven Gevinson is a career educator who spent decades in vital posts at OPRF as a teacher, division chair and union leader. He is dedicated to this school but has an outlook that we simply disagree with. Gevinson would, in our opinion, look backward to a time when the faculty was ascendant, the administration was hamstrung and the school board was tippling the "Those Things That Are Best" Kool-Aid. He believes the current administration is too large and too powerful while we believe it has just retaken leadership of the school. OPRF is poised to accomplish great things on many fronts. As much as we admire and respect Gevinson, this is not the time to turn back.

Julie MacCarthy and Steven Nations are bright and capable candidates who are running this race for the right reasons. Neither brings the body of experience that puts them in league with those we have chosen to endorse. We would welcome their future participation in high school endeavors.

Also not endorsed are John Bokum, a kind and sincere OPRF board follower, David Perkovich, a decent if somewhat eccentric educator and acting coach or Beatrice Fung, a long time Oak Parker legitimately frustrated by the school's December choice to hike its tax levy.

Finally we come to Barb Langer. Langer did not accept our multiple invitations to sit for endorsement interviews and under our process that would simply disqualify her from our consideration. However, keep your eye, your jaundiced eye, on Barb Langer. While this newspaper has been raising enormous concern over the giant-sized financial reserve at OPRF for several years, we have no patience for single-issue, anti-tax crusaders like Langer. Beware.

Reader Comments

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Oprf Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 2nd, 2013 9:35 PM

Gap = low or no parental goal setting, rules and personal responsibility at early age. Does not matter age, race or gender. If there are no role models and hard rules - Gap will exist.

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 9:02 PM

Agree - NO to Gevinson. We do NOT need a career Educator. This is EXACTLY what we have enough of ---- on the inside. We need people with creative vision --- people with the acumen of Cofsky. Believe me - in the next 4-6 years OP and RF will be glad the high school had the reserves as the State is going to throw EVERYTHING upon the local districts - Pensions and all. We need good sound Financial focus on the Board. Enough already!

NO to Gevinson  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 8:06 PM

What's his agenda? He does not have the best interests of the students at heart and will not receive my vote. He did as much to keep the students down at the high school as anybody else. I do not trust him. NO!

Tamara Jaffe-Notier from Oak Park  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 6:44 PM

Moore, Weissglass, Cofsky, & McQueen are all excellent candidates, but wisdom derived from knowledge and experience give Gevinson an edge as a potential school board member. Solid educational policy should not be influenced by what's in fashion, but tested to see if it works. If "Large administration" were the equivalent of "leadership," then Chicago Public should be the best school district in the country. True leadership comes from internal authority, not more bosses.


Posted: March 28th, 2013 9:54 PM

Well, for starters, I think the Latino students are struggling as a group too but the difference is that they are around 5-6% of the student population at OPRF. That's part of the difference. Blacks make up much more -- maybe 25 or 30 percent I think. So it's not quite the same.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 9:23 PM

You just got to ask yourself why the gap is not as skewed for the latino students.


Posted: March 28th, 2013 4:35 PM

With all due respect, JP, there shouldn't be this huge gap. You are simplifying something that is not simple at all. To say that certain kids don't want to be motivated or that their parents don't encourage education is showing an extreme lack of understanding of the situation. There are a lot of factors that go into the gap. You are leaving out some important ones such as expectations of staff, treatment by staff, and a general lack of push from OPRF. It's not as simple as you believe.

JP from OP  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 4:21 PM

With all due respect to those obsessed with it, I think the Gap may always be there -- and be wide -- when students from households that don't encourage education just Don't Want to Be There and Don't Want to Do Well. I don't think all the money in Oak Park can motivate such kids.

Another perspective  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 3:22 PM

Our elementary student started receiving GTD services when test scores qualified him. Before the district introduced standardized testing, the students whose parents had the biggest helicopters received the GTD instruction.

Parent with Long Memory from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 1:23 PM

Recently our daughter graduated college with honors. I can still remember how, as an incoming Freshman at OPRF, Mr. Gevinson did not want to let her take honors English as a result of one test score. We ultimately prevailed and she got an A in honors English.

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 1:20 PM

I don't know Tom Cofsky, but of all the candidates he seems like the one with important business sense. Boards need to be diverse in skill as well as diverse in appearance!

Mr. X-Ray from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 1:07 PM

After several years of posturing, with virtually no substantive reporting, about the gap at OPRF, the WJ inserts into its endorsement article the assertion that the gap is in large part caused by unnamed faculty or staff who have created a hostile environment for African American parents at the school. Yet no substantiation is offered for this claim, which comes across more as cheap shot than serious observation. Too bad, the parents, faculty and students at OPRF deserve better.

Wes from OP  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 12:27 PM

I did much research. Here are the best ones: Davis, Cofsky, Nations and Weissglass. How could anyone not vote for a guy who has a beer-related last name?

For Jackie!  

Posted: March 28th, 2013 9:58 AM

I agree with the recommendations for D200 board members. Jackie Moore would be a great addition to the OPRF Board. After attending one of the forums, I definitely decided on Weissglass and leaned to the other two you mentioned. Good decision, WJ!

C Ann Thomas from Flint, Michigan  

Posted: March 27th, 2013 9:20 AM

First, I am sending this comment from Michigan expressing my pride that Melanie still cares deeply for children and parents. I worked closely with Ms McQueen for 12 years in the Chicago area with youth. I can attest to her passion and outstanding level of dedication to any endeavor she is involved with. I hope citizens realize what they have in her.

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