OPRF students defend their teachers


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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

The Oak Park and River Forest High School board asked for public comment and on April 11 they got it. They also learned that it may not be a good idea to get theater kids mad.

Between 150 and 200 people, more than half OPRF students, came to OPRF's Little Theater last Wednesday night for a special meeting of the District 200 school board to give public comment about the school board's recent decision to send out reduction in force notices (RIF) to 21 non-tenured and part-time teachers at the school.

Although RIF's happen in pretty much every school district in Illinois every year, this year's list at OPRF stirred outrage among some parents and students. Even though many teachers that are RIF-fed are eventually called back, it appears that the very popular acting teacher and head of the OPRF theater department Tracy Strimple will not be called back. Strimple, who has a background in musical theater, also teaches directing and has directed numerous shows at OPRF.

About 60 people, mostly students, spoke at the meeting. The public comment period lasted for nearly 2 1/2 hours. While the students praised a number of teachers on the RIF list, Strimple was a name that came up over and over again.

"She is a mom to every single person in this theater department," said Phoebe Sullivan-Bing, an OPRF senior.

Another student said that "Ms. Strimple has inspired me beyond belief to be better than I have ever been."

Strimple, who has served as theater department chair since October, quietly sat in the top row of the Little Theater throughout the meeting listening to student after student speak on her behalf.

"It's been an incredibly emotional evening for me," said Strimple, a five-year, part-time teacher as she was leaving after the meeting.

She teaches three classes a semester as part of her part-time schedule and has been riffed every year and has always been called back. But at a meeting last month with her division head, Strimple said that she was told that this time she wouldn't be called back.

"In the past when I had my RIF meeting it's just a formality and I've always been told 'this is how many classes you have for the following year and you'll be getting your contract soon for next year,'" Strimple said. "At this year's RIF meeting I was told that another teacher will be taking over the theater classes and I will not be asked back."

Sarah Roodhouse, chair of OPRF's Fine & Applied Arts/Business Division, declined to comment on her conversation with Strimple.

"There is so much stress around here right now around this. I feel I cannot comment," Roodhouse said.

Strimple also insisted she did not encourage or organize the big turnout of theater students at last week's meeting, although she did inform students in her classes that she wouldn't be coming back to OPRF.

Seniority usually governs employment decisions when schools RIF teachers. A tenured teacher can bump a part time or non-tenured teacher for a teaching slot. State law governs this but the law is beginning to change to allow teacher evaluations to be considered.

One student said that more than seniority needs to be considered.

"The idea that good teachers are RIF'ed is terrible when bad teachers can stay," said Maddie Rees, an OPRF junior. "I think merit should at least be taken into consideration rather than just how long you've been here."

School board members attending last Wednesday's special meeting said that they were impressed by the passionate comments from students and parents.

"I've been blown away by the comments," said Board member Amy McCormack.

After the meeting member Sharon Patchak-Layman said that she will be influenced by what she heard at the meeting.

"I think what the students said will carry a lot weight in my decision making," Patchak-Layman said.

Reader Comments

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OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 6:29 AM

@David R - Congratulations and thank you for your service! You possibly could be right, but Sue Bridge?

David W Ristau from Lahaina and River Forest  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 9:30 PM

@OPRF Achievement Gap: regarding yur comment about Rigas and Harmon: I served on OPRF Board 1991 to 1995, long before Harmon was downstate and Rigas was on board. Check your history of the 91-95 years before commenting further. Quite a bit of cost reductions and budget work occurred, with help of staff, faculty and administration. I still don't understand why a 1 building district needs a superintendent AND a principal. IMO, Didn't need it 20 years ago and don't need it now. That's $ 300k/yr

Mason Astill: Theatre Student from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 6:05 PM

I attended this board meeting and many after it and must say how overwhelmingly disappointing the reactions of board members, excepting Amy McCormack and Mrs. Layman, have been. Not to mention the schools administration, who, despite the recent teacher pay freeze, have gotten large raises. The board has said that money is not the primary driving force in this, but i wonder where the emphasis in firing Strimple is, as she has the most seniority as an acting teacher. Continue to fight for teachers


Posted: April 19th, 2012 11:22 PM

It is fantastic the students spoke up and out. Some of them may be able to vote in the next local elections April 2013 and future school board elections. Don't stop now, your voice and vote count. Grab your parents by the hand and drag them to the local elections in 2013.

Former OPRF Drama Kid from Chicago  

Posted: April 14th, 2012 2:24 PM

Arts Supporter: I don't know where you get your numbers, but they're wrong. There have never been fewer than 3 Drama classes, and that's how many there are now. If there were 6 Drama classes, there'd be enough for a full-time (5) AND a part-time teacher. Unless you're counting 1 class as 1 semester, which would make your "1 class when she arrived" even more off-base.


Posted: April 14th, 2012 11:19 AM

OPRF AG, Ok, I don't think our views are really that far apart. Let's focus on everything you say and then recall Mr. Lee just for kicks. I mean, seriously...can any of the goals you mention be accomplished with that man on the board?

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 14th, 2012 10:01 AM

@Recall - great reporting! Rather than focus on recall, lets focus on reinvigorating "All that is Best" & begin to put together what can be long lasting drive, interest & deep support for a platform and people who have shared values for doing what is best for the Children but in a fiscally responsible manner. I was all with you, until you mentioned recall. This is the cheap easy mantra of the day. Only reason people should feel otherwise, they did not put together a "better" candidates.


Posted: April 14th, 2012 9:54 AM

I was at the meeting on Wednesday night. Can somebody please explain to me how Mr. Lee, one of the board members, gets away with playing on his cell phone for the entire meeting? Even if he is uninterested, this is embarrassing for the community. Legend has it he was fired from OPRF back in the day for abysmal behavior and to this day he blames the teacher's union for not supporting him more. He now has no interest in anything that favors teachers. This man gets elected...how? Embarrassing...

Arts Supporter  

Posted: April 14th, 2012 12:09 AM

Former Oak Park Drama Kid - Mrs. Strimple has built the OPRF class offered theater program to 6 classes per year from a program that had one class with less than 20 students when she arrived (today that class wouldn't run due to low numbers). Her classes must have 25 or more students to run. That's 500% growth in 5 years from a part time employee. Please define your definition of growth.


Posted: April 13th, 2012 4:55 PM

Hey Sarcasm... Perhaps my math is off, but he has had two full years to make his mark. How is he any better than Weninger?

Upset Parent  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 1:13 PM

RECALL THE SCHOOL BOARD. Enough is enough! Let's start a recall campaign to remove the school board.

Sarcasm Font  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 9:16 AM

TaxPayer has it so right. Isoye has been there almost a full school year, and it is clear the place can barely fuction. Why he wasn't removed after the first week or month is anyone's guess. Wait, I know, it's those darn Mann parents!

OPRF Student  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 6:44 AM

As a student, I have to say that Dr. Isoye has by far been the most receptive administrator in terms of hearing our concerns. Rouse is the problem. A student wrote him a VERY mature letter about the problems which was in no way offensive. He had the student removed from class by security and proceeded to lecture her for an hour and demanding that she apologize to him and his staff. Dr. Isoye intervened and said that it was not necessary and that her letter was very good. Lack of communication!

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 6:07 AM

@David W Ristau - Thanks for explaining the Problem. This is the way our friend Harmon likes it .. stay close to the Union, protect those that will vote for him. If you were on the School Board, why did you and John Rigas not fight - go to Springfield or push Harmon to CHANGE something that is obviously part of the BIGGER problem. We need Board members to represent what is BEST for the children, current and Future. Not what is BEST for a State with broken rules.

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 6:01 AM

RIF Harmon and Quinn. You see, the comments ....all schools do the RIFing all the time, is JUST the Problem. That is the same excuse Government & Boards make all the time. Just because you CAN raise Taxes for example-by raising the Levy every year, does not mean you HAVE to. OPRF Board needs to focus & work on this. Not that it is not legal, that others don't do it, & that it is a common occuranace. We need to get out of that mode -- and as others have said, focus on doing what is RIGHT!

junior parent  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 5:30 AM

The comment that impressed me the most was from a junior who challenged the Board to reconsider their language and perspective that 'RIFing is not personal'. Para-phrasing what he said: 'Of course it's personal. I depend on some of these teachers. They are very important influences in my life and RIFing takes that away. How is that good?' Bravo to every student who spoke up. You did a great job of representing the best of OPRF.

KThurman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 10:51 PM

One of the travesties at OPRF is that for freshmen, if they want to take 5 academics they can't take an elective other than music performance such as chorus, band or orchestra for the sixth class. This means motivated students who would like to take drama, speech, art or any number of other electives are forced to take study hall. It seems to me that if they opened that up, there would be plenty of opportunity for more teaching options.


Posted: April 12th, 2012 10:24 PM

Might be time for Isoye to go. Seems like administration is the problem here, not the teachers.

OPRF Student  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 6:21 PM

While I have tremendous respect for Ms. Strimple, it is important to make sure that equal attention is given to every teacher on that list. Yes, RIFing happens every year, though last year only 4 teachers were on the list and the year before that only 2. The staff is taking a 2 year pay freeze but the administration is continuing to get a pay raise next year. I dont care how many schools do this, we are those things that are best and we should be setting the example for others! Stop the RIF!

Christina Birkentall from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 6:16 PM

Since there are only 3 classes provided, then there are only so many students that can take these classes. My son waited 4 semesters to get into the class, as there is always a full class. Perhaps they should just hire Ms Strimple full time and step back and watch how it grows. There will be no holding it back. As it is she works for pennies on the dollar now, always there, always caring. It is a the school not Ms. Strimple who can make this a priority, she already has given her heart and soul.

Arts Parent from River Forest  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 6:11 PM

Evidently, there are fewer opportunities for students to enroll in electives now, given all the required classes for graduation. Or so they said. I think we're arguing the same point: OPRF needs more faculty to teach speech, drama, etc., not to eliminate the one remaining halftime position.

Former OPRF Drama Kid from Chicago  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 5:42 PM

That's 200 kids in 10 productions and only 3 Drama classes. Ms. Strimple directs the large productions (musicals), 4 other teachers direct the plays, & 4 students direct. 2/3 of those 200 kids never take a Drama class, so they have no academic theatre experience to support them on stage. That's not how a Theatre program is supposed to be. There's a reason why there were 4 times as many classes when I was there. There's no comprehensive suburban high school with such low Drama registrations.

Arts Parent from River Forest  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 5:18 PM

@Former OPRF Drama Kid: Last night they shared how the program has been built up over the past 5 years: more than 200 students annually, 20% go on to study theatre at places like NYU and Carnegie-Mellon. Amazing progress for a one halftime teacher considering that the Theater Dept. used to have 2.5 times more faculty!

Former OPRF Drama Kid from Chicago  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 4:59 PM

Clearly, Ms. Strimple has inspired loyalty among some of the kids she directs in the musical, and some of the kids she's taught. But if she's all that, why hasn't she built up the Drama program in her 5 years? When I was there, there were 2 full-time, and one part-time Drama teacher. Why, in a school of more than 3000, do only 60 kids take Drama? Why do so few serious Theatre kids actually take theatre CLASSES? It's embarrassing.

@DavidWR from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 4:06 PM

The board may be following procedural laws regarding informing teachers that they may not offer a contract to next year. But, there is nothing in the law that is dictating the choices that the OPRF administrators, who are paid very well, want to make. Hopefully the board will not allow this. The board now has every opportunity to prioritize keeping good teachers and showing respect to their teaching staff and their students, which is supposed to be their job, unpaid as it may be.

Christina Birkentall from Oak park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 2:38 PM

I attended the meeting but did not speak. I wrote a letter instead this morning arguing that teachers who include special ed kids in their classes should be given much more consideration as that inclusion helps one and all understand and have compassion regarding the students in special ed. I am now saddened beyond belief to find out that Tracy Strimple, the lifeblood for so many is fully released. She made sure my son was treated equally in the musicals and he thrives because of her help.

Arts Parent from River Forest  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 2:29 PM

I'm dumfounded that the OPRF theatre program, an established, prestigious community resource that produces more than a dozen shows, raises thousands of dollars and trains hundreds of students annually, would not have a director for 2012-2013. So what IS the plan? Why not share it BEFORE dismissing the current director? This should outrage students and parents of District 97 students involved in the popular Bravo and CAST programs as well. They'll have nowhere to go at OPRF.

David W Ristau from Lahaina and River Forest  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 2:04 PM

@Oak Park Voter: The high school board cannot vote "themselves a huge raise". Impossible task. There is no payment to a board member for serving on a school board in Illinois. Get your facts straight before spewing your truisms at the public.

David W Ristau from Lahaina and River Forest  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 2:00 PM

I believe it is unfortunate that the protests that are occurring regarding RIF are emotional based and mis-directed venting against a legal process that has been in place for years. Go to Springfield and protest the manner in which labor laws are passed. As a former OPRF board member, I have personal experience with the process. All the prorests in the world will not change legal responsibility of the board to follow the laws of Illinois.

Barbara from Forest Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 1:55 PM

MS Strimple must feel very much rewarded to know how what of an impression she has made on her students. Now let's hope she is reqarded with a new contract.

Oak Park Voter  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 1:25 PM

Last night I attended the high school special board meeting and I'm dismayed at what I found out: Students are being crammed 30 to a class to justify the reduction in the number of teachers. Teachers with advanced degrees will not be considered to teach at OPRFHS. Teachers agreed to a multi-year pay freeze in their contract negotiations. Then the school board gave themselves a huge raise. Teachers not qualified to instruct the classes vacated by fired faculty will fill the positions.VOTE IN 2013

OP Mom of a former crew chief from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 1:18 PM

I had no idea that OPRF was planning on cutting the chair of the theater department. This is one of the most vital areas of the school. Performing Arts is a cornerstone of the academic program. Thousands of kids have excelled in life because of the training and opportunities that they have received in this program. I don't know Ms.Strimple but I suspect from the commentaries of the students, she needs to be retained. Don't dent a program that effects life far beyond OPRF.


Posted: April 12th, 2012 1:17 PM

Looks like she got bumped by someone tenured. Who cares if the tenured one is any good? This is what the union system looks like.

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