By Terry Dean
Developing a racial consciousness among all school staff is among the goals outlined in Oak Park and River Forest High School's ambitious strategic plan.
The plan is still in draft form, but the District 200 Board of Education, which governs OPRF, is expected to approve a final plan in the next few weeks. The plan lays out goals the school hopes to achieve over the next five years. The board and administration have been dissecting the draft since its release in June.
Five goals are outlined in the plan, and each of the goals includes several specific initiatives or "action steps" the school looks to achieve. The plan addresses such issues as school finances and facilities and overall academics.
But the focus on equity is of note, given the school's long attention to the closing the achievement gap, as well as addressing racial disparities in the discipline system.
Before the school embarked on its strategic plan, Supt. Steven Isoye, who's in his third year at OPRF, has looked to move racial equity even more into the foreground. The strategic planning process was also spearheaded by Isoye.
The equity goal includes several initiatives, including "developing racial consciousness in all personnel hired" and creating a school environment where "all students experience a sense of belonging."
At a recent school board meeting, Isoye explained detailed some of the work the school has done over the years on the equity issue, as well as what work lies ahead.
And clearing up some of the misconceptions about how race and ethnicity is defined, Isoye says, is part of that work.
"To help with this work, there are some definitions that we work with our faculty and staff; there's some confusion with nationality, ethnicity and race," he told the D200 board.
"Nationality is really location of citizenship or birthplace; what your passport or birth certificate says. Ethnicity is your culture, where your values and beliefs and daily practices come from. That's different than race," Isoye said. "Race is color, the racial category that you're perceived to be. And that's why when we talk about race we talk we talk about black students and white students."
Isoye also recalled having to fill out forms as a child, with "oriental" as one of the choices.
"That threw me for a loop, because it was white, black and oriental — OK. Then when oriental was changed to 'Asian' I wondered, 'Where did my category go?' So the race piece, for me, helps me understand," he said.