By Terry Dean
Many longtime and relatively new Oak Park residents would likely get what a school board member meant when he talked about "Oak Parking" certain things.
That is, implementing a program or initiative with its own proven methodology or criteria and then discarding much of that criteria and methodology to create something from scratch in the "Oak Park way."
The District 97 board is exploring whether to participate in the International Baccalaureate Program. IB is a high school/grade school-based program (and philosophy) focused on creating a rigorous learning environment for students, and not just in core subjects but also physical education, personal growth and civic involvement.
The program is a long way away from being implemented in D97 but the board and administration are fully behind it. But it was board President Peter Barber who was among the officials cautioning against trying to "Oak Park" the program. IB, which will be implemented in the middle schools once approved by the board, doesn't really change the district's core mission of educating the "whole child" but enhances it, Barber and others said at a school board meeting on Tuesday (June 26).
IB is not only a program but an organization. The nonprofit, education foundation has been around since 1968, has offices around the world, and offers programs for elementary through high school students. According to their website, IB currently works with more than 3,000 schools worldwide. In order to be an "IB school" those schools must commit to following IB's program and philosophy.
But as Barber noted, Oak Park— from the schools to village government and everywhere else — has installed many programs and initiatives over the years and usually ends up "Oak Parking" them. Some successfully and some not. There's always the tendency to want to "Oak Park It," he said. But Barber and other D97 officials says that can't be the case with IB.
If it ends up not working, then the district will stop doing it, Barber said, but he urged the district and community—once the program is fully explained in detail to residents—to stick with the program and resist the urge to try to Oak Park It. "We either have to be all in or all out," he said.
But as school board member Denise Sacks noted, the district will continue to have its after school activities and other programs Oak Park's known for while doing the IB program. Barber noted that co-curriculars such as CAST and BRAVO will not be de-emphasized or altered under IB. And board members and administrators all pointed out that the district's 6-year-old Strategic Plan included much of what IB is focused around — educating the whole child, having kids as active agents in their learning, and helping them become better citizens, etc. But the district hasn't found a concrete and consistent way to do those things, they admit. The IB program has been shown to be able to, they insist.
And that's the main reason why they don't think this one can be, or should be,"Oak Parked."
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