By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School Principal Nathaniel Rouse doesn't anticipate as many disciplinary problems with junior students as occurred when those kids were sophomores.
Some of the 10th graders last year acted up as a kind of protest against the school's changes to its closed-campus policy. Next week marks the second year of the school's modified closed campus policy, in which juniors and seniors only are allowed off-campus lunch privileges, under strict conditions.
Last year's sophomore class saw a slight spike in poor grades and discipline incidents, including a string of food fights in the cafeteria over a three-day period last December. Rouse said students overall responded well to the policy changes that went into effect last year, adding that the school has worked to find ways to be proactive with students to help them maintain good behavior.
But changing behavior starts with changing the school's culture and how people think, he insisted.
Discipline infractions overall declined during the first semester of the 2011-2012 school year, compared to the same time the previous school year. Grades also improved among juniors and seniors that first semester.
Rouse said staff will continue to find ways to accommodate those students who remain on campus during lunchtime. Last year, he started a "Pizza with the Principal" activity during lunch periods to talk with students more casually. Rouse said he'll set aside time for students to drop by his office to talk about whatever topic they'd like.
"One of the things that I want to commit to this year that's different is finding a way to connect with students more … whether that be a blog or different things," he said.
Aesthetic changes made around the building last year included the addition of tables and chairs in the upper area of the Student Center, located at the main entrance on Scoville. Rouse said chairs and couches are planned for the main lower level of the Student Center this year. That area was closed off to students entirely last year but has slowly reopened.
"We believe that students have responded positively," Rouse said of the modified closed campus policy. "It is an incentive to be able to leave campus, but our goal would be to make our campus one in which our students would prefer to stay."
Classes resume next week on Thursday, Aug. 23, for all students. Freshmen will start a day earlier, on Aug. 22.