‘A basket of small changes” is how one unhappy school board member at Oak Park and River Forest High School last week described the school’s official response to having come up short for a second straight year by the No Child Left Behind measure.

As usual, Sharon Patchak-Layman was in the minority on that 5-1 vote to send the school’s remediation plan off to the state. While there is nothing in the six-point plan that we object to, as with so many aspects of the NCLB law, the plan has the feel of hoop-jumping. The reality is that in a one-school high school district, there will never be – nor should be – the type of massive reconstitution of the school that George W. Bush might have imagined when he imposed this behemoth nine years back.

OPRF is our high school. And it is a school with fine qualities to go along with its shortcomings. We’d also stipulate that efforts over many years to address the achievement gap among black, low-income and special education students at the school have been sincere. They’ve also been incremental and too cautious.

So while we applaud the district in its recent hiring of an outreach coordinator who will focus on direct contacts with the parents of at-risk minority students, and while we support more resources being devoted to faculty development, these steps won’t be enough to actually solve this complex and ingrained challenge.

We believe there is change afoot at OPRF. We see it in the way this school board works, the way they talk more openly than in the past about the school’s failings, as well as its successes. We see it in an administration that is clearer in its goals than past administrations have been.

This then is the moment for full measures. In past months we’ve talked up the successes of the KIPP charter school model which focuses on a dedication to basic learning skills and achieves them through longer school days and school years. We’re no experts and we’re not shilling for a specific program. But we are saying that a substantive change in programming is necessary if this intractable problem is to be solved. And, by the way, we’re not letting the District 97 elementary schools off the hook here either. Notable changes in one district should ideally be mirrored in the other.

A tree grows in Oak Park …

Recently asked an independent expert for his assessment of Oak Park’s finances. “Oh, they’re broke,” he said succinctly. Also asked a village trustee his thoughts and he predicted additional years of extremely tough budgets and further cost-cutting.

Which brings us to a plea for trees.

Last winter, as the village shaved costs by reducing road salt on icy streets and supplemented it with what we believe to have been V-8, we wrote about the increasing noise we were hearing from residents that they expected enough cops on the street and wanted the streets plowed and dry. Now it is summer and we are adding to our list of essential government services the ongoing planting of trees.

The village government, which will be counting paper clips next, has cut funding for new tree plantings for this spring and possibly this fall. We can live with that. This year is brutal. But we can’t live with a multi-year budget solution that defoliates our town. The urban forest we’ve created and nurtured through long decades and several arboreal crises, is high on our list of government priorities.

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