Much of what makes District 97 great also makes managing it challenging, with a diverse student body and Oak Park’s passion for intense citizen involvement likely topping the list.

While retiring Superintendent John Fagan is to be thanked and congratulated for having lived through 17 years of Oak Park’s ways, bringing in new energy and a fresh perspective is always a benefit. This district needs both the passion of a new superintendent and the dispassion a new set of eyes will bring to ignored or too readily defended positions.

The district’s newly hired Superintendent Constance Collins certainly has energy. She impressed the board’s citizens committee and the board itself with her enthusiasm for children, her open communication and her appreciation of diversity.

We look forward to seeing that energy brought to bear on ineffective communication with the public, unnecessary angst over parent involvement, and a general defensiveness which now characterizes the district.

There are immediate challenges in District 97. Two schools?#34;Holmes and Brooks?#34;have genuine leadership challenges which must be solved. Test scores reflect true learning concerns at other schools. The achievement gap among African American students is gaping. Collins has experience working with school districts with many of the same issues as Oak Park. She strikes us as committed to tackling tough issues, intent on listening?#34;a talent the tone deaf district is in great of developing?#34;yet willing to take decisive action. 

Many of these issues will require a detailed, practical strategy, and greater cooperation with the high school. That is another bridge which needs nurturing.

The district’s finances seem to be in relatively good shape at the moment, but a crisis is always looming. While Collins’ doesn’t pretend to be a numbers cruncher, this is another area where she will need to lead. 

Despite some controversy, we believe the process that led to Collins’ selection was inclusive, positive and thorough. And we are additionally pleased to see that she will be involved in the hiring of key positions over the coming months.

No to a non-vote
One part of the hiring process we are disappointed with, however, is board member Sharon Patchak-Layman’s decision to abstain from voting on Collins’ appointment.

We appreciate and respect Patchak-Layman’s persistent questioning of board practices. Divergence of opinion always makes policy debates better.

But it’s unfair to many, not the least of who are Oak Park voters, for a board member to refuse to take a hard position on one of the most important decisions a school board makes.

There’s nothing wrong with objecting to a search process, but appointing a new superintendent is worthy of a yes or no vote, not a non-vote.

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