Not that long ago, in the 2006-07 school year, Oak Park and River Forest High School expelled 26 students. And that number was down from two years previous, when the school expelled 39 students. In numbers reported to the school board last week, OPRF announced that in the school year that ended in June, five students had been expelled.

That is a remarkable and positive turn of events. We applaud OPRF, its board, administration, teachers and – yes – students, for stepping back from a disciplinary action that’s the school equivalent of the death penalty in a court of law.

Expelling students is the final pronouncement that a school is giving up all hope. An expulsion sends the message that the kid might just as well come to the same conclusion.

You might worry that this is all smoke and mirrors, that out-of-control kids are just being hidden away at the high school to shrink the expulsion roster. We see no signs of that. What we do see are indications that steps put in place over the past two years -remaking of the discipline and counseling departments, chief among them – are taking hold. A new focus on tutoring, Saturday detentions, adding an academic quotient to regular detentions, and a broad effort to expand student accountability by empowering every adult at the school to call kids on their errant ways – all that – is working.

The road is long. This is a positive step.

Hoop it up

Speaking of accountability, the Park District of Oak Park is expecting it of young basketball players at a new court in Longfellow Park. And what do you know? Setting high expectations and putting a welcoming, street-smart fellow in charge of monitoring those expectations is working well even as participation swells.

Two summers ago, neighbors of the park at Ridgeland and Jackson were worried about their park and sensed that it was being taken from them by punks and knuckleheads. As part of the park district’s master planning process, Longfellow neighbors took part in planning their refurbished park. To their everlasting credit, neighbors and the park district chose to emphasize a nearly full-sized basketball court and placed it prominently at Ridgeland and Adams.

Basketball hoops attract young black men by the bushel. And as we know, young black men make many white people wary. That’s what makes this effort counterintuitive and, yet, instinctively right. We’re inspired to watch these intense and excellent basketball players crowd the court while, 90 feet away, a fabulous new playground is swarmed by toddlers, preschoolers and the people who love them. This, friends, is Oak Park.

Growing River Forest

We’re encouraged by the draft of a plan to reinvigorate Madison Street and North Avenue – River Forest’s often-overlooked borders. Yes, the economy is still an anvil, but times will change and when they do, River Forest will be wisely prepared for new development.

Can’t help noticing that much of the hoped-for development calls for mixed use – retail and residential – projects. Now is the time to deep-six the current absurd and, we believe, unconstitutional requirement that a new housing unit requires the removal of another housing unit in town.

Clear the decks and kill that law.

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