There seems to be an unwritten pledge in Oak Park that brings many of us to this community for a single purpose. We choose to raise our children here because we want to be a part of an exciting and wonderful village that works, plays, lives and loves together as one human race. We feel that we can show ourselves, our children, and indeed the world, what a truly integrated community can look, feel and be like anywhere and for all time. It is a vision toward which many of us work diligently every day of our lives.
We have some great accomplishments on which to pride ourselves and upon which to build; the Multicultural Center and the Ethnic Festival are but a few.
More importantly, the color of leadership in Oak Park is (and I hope always will be) black, white, olive, tan and every other color that chooses to be a part of our visionary village. But we must do more than this.
Though I thoroughly disliked her earlier idea "to turn this village inside and out," Wyanetta Johnson spoke from the heart at a most recent District 97 School Board meeting about the real needs of the children of our community, and on that subject I couldn't agree more.
Also at the board meeting, I had the pleasure of talking with Edye Deloch-Hughs and Darryl Hughs about their efforts with the A.P.P.L.E. tutoring program at Brooks and their need for consistent volunteers. I just kept thinking that if all the people at that board meeting with their strong energy and concern for education would show up at the tutoring programs and on a regular basis, we could wipe out many of our students' reading, writing and math issues and perhaps even make a dent in the achievement gap.
As a high school English teacher and former middle school language arts teacher who spends 10 to 16 hours a day in the trenches with all sorts of kids, I know how important one-on-one tutoring can be in the life of a struggling child. I also know how important it is to model what it is you are trying to teach the children, and it is this that disturbed me most about the board meeting.
Though people are encouraged to voice their opinions, it seems that we as a community have not overcome the temptation to label people. Labeling a person or one's opinions of an administrator's effectiveness as "racist" based on the color of one's skin is in itself an act of racism.
When Mr. Troelstrup and Mr. West make blanket statements about those whose opinions differ from their own being "racist," it is a cheap and easy strategy to garner power and perhaps future votes. It is a technique used to silence the voice of dissent, and it is hell on a community trying to achieve a vision of togetherness.
Dismissing someone and one's opinions based on the color of her skin is one of the greatest evils with which our country battles. Why would either of them choose to model that for our children? And when I say "our children," I mean all of our children. Anyone in this village who does not feel that their children are part of our children does not understand the vision.
When I tell everyone how sad many of us were when Sheila Carter left the Lincoln School team, it is not because she happens to be black; it is because she is an awesome
administrator. When I actively and firmly requested Betty Smitherman to be the sixth grade teacher for my two older daughters and begged her to stick around for my third, it was not just because she was black; it was because she is a strong female role model and an excellent teacher.
When I have opinions about an administrator's leadership, it is because I am a professional educator who knows how important it is to be lead by a positive, supportive, and visionary principal. It is because I am a parent who is concerned by the climate I hear about from the black and white parents whose children come home from school with troubling stories. It is because I am a citizen in this community who listens to all the perspectives that are out there without dismissing them based on the color of the source.
When will we be able, all of us, to follow the advice of Martin Luther King, Jr. to judge a person by the quality of their character rather than the color of their skin?
Whether we agree or disagree about Flora Green's job performance, we must not attack one another with false and easy labels. If it is truly the children for whom we are concerned, let us model civil discourse. Let us remember where we live. This is Oak Park, the village that works, plays, lives, and loves together as one human race. A village that prides itself on multiculturalism and I sincerely hope, multiple viewpoints.
As an old African proverb says: When everyone thinks alike, there is not a lot of thinking going on. It is time for new thinking. It is time for a new appraisal system that uses clear expectations for our administrators. It is time for our new superintendent to objectively evaluate our administrators' effectiveness, support those who grow, and fire those who cannot without waiting for so much public discord.
Let us let go of anger and convenient labels and move on to do the hard work, the real work of educating our children. Let us pull ourselves out of half the meetings and use that strong energy and concern and that time in our tutoring programs.
Dare to care about one student. Jump into the trenches where educators live each day holding these kids together emotionally so they can grow intellectually. Stop talking and start doing! And let us stop labeling, silencing, and dividing people and get back to the business and joy of building our incredible community?#34;together.