A recent file from the International Center for Leadership in Education contained the following question: “How does a learning community of adults find hope?” This seemed a fitting question for all citizens of Oak Park and River Forest.
In light of work on the part of the OPRF High School Board of Education, this seems quite relevant for them as well as the faculty and staff at the high school–especially when a major goal is to diminish the minority student achievement gap. Everyone seems to have an opinion, some more convincing than others.
The answer in part is to include as many of the families and other members of our communities so that the following can be accomplished:
1. An intensive and ongoing teacher collaboration around student achievement and results
2. A refusal by adults to accept anything less than maximum student effort
3. A passionate pursuit by the adults for better results
4. A continuous improvement mindset
5. Required intervention for all students at risk of achieving at expected levels.
These goals need to be reinforced throughout our communities.
A December Wednesday Journal article contained a request that African-American achievement include the perspectives of black males. A suggested strategy would be to invite small groups of at-risk students to the public library to share the NOVA program, Forgotten Genius, followed by a discussion that ends with a motivational emphasis for acquiring survival skills on the part of the students.
For all of you who have seen the Nova program, you may want to make reference to the program by saying, “If Percy Julian can do it, so can we,” not, “If Percy can do it so can you.” It calls into play the idea that we all have something to gain in this major endeavor.
The board of education needs to create a data-driven culture at the high school that responds to the following:
A. What do we want all students to know and to be able to do? (Learning is constant.)
B. How will we know if all students know and can do what we have decided? (Is this a private teacher act or public to others?)
C. What will be our adult response when students do not meet our expected learning goals? (Time and support is variable.)
Finally, letters to the editor need to underscore that no one is an enemy here. Sensationalism sells papers but it may not be the best response to communities that are willing to take an educational risk that defies all odds. We must all assist in supporting the board of education in this endeavor. Our particular communities with its schools are capable of these accomplishments.
Norb Teclaw is a retired OPRF science instructor and organizer of both the Percy Julian Centennial celebration and the annual OPRF Percy Julian Science Colloquium.