It’s too soon for everyone to be happy at Oak Park and River Forest High School. There are still tough choices to be made, decisions which will ruffle feathers, changes in direction that will be unsettling to some of the institution’s “stakeholders.”
But in announcing the “retirement” of Superintendent Attila Weninger, current OPRF school board President Dietra Millard sounded the coming of the new day when all stakeholders are heard, the rope is pulled in only one direction, and, yet, miraculously, the tough decisions continue to be made.
We will wait impatiently as the school board searches for that utopian candidate for District 200’s hot seat. Good luck.
There is a small and insular group of potential superintendents for OPRF. They know each other, they talk to each other. No one will walk blind into this job. No one will believe that Weninger retired.
They will know that serious challenges – not insurmountable, but real – remain at the school. And they will know that, on a divided school board, the side with the slim majority has announced it no longer has the stomach for serious change.
Here’s what’s left to do at OPRF, what we think Weninger was in a unique position to carry off:
Key hires as division chairs. New ideas from the outside. People who will take their cues from the top, not from their faculty supporters.
New leadership in special ed. This is an area overripe for substantial change. Here is where special ed, the achievement gap, complex racial issues and chronically dissatisfied parents all come together in an unhappy tangle.
A bold plan to take on the gap. Cultural and structural changes had to come ahead of a detailed plan for the gap. See today’s One View by Jim O’Connor, an Oak Parker and KIPP charter school founder, for one take on how the gap might be substantively addressed.
A realistic teachers’ contract. The school took our money and enormously overpaid for the last, five-year long contract. It will come to an end and tough terms for a new contract will challenge the feel good atmosphere the board craves.
These are not consensus changes. These are not changes that will be embraced by all stakeholders. But they are necessary next steps. Finding a new superintendent ready to step in and deal with tough choices will be difficult. It is the path, though, that a narrow board majority has chosen. We will be watching closely.
New day on Madison Street
It has been 40 years since car dealers began their exodus from Madison Street in Oak Park. What once was an auto row for the West Side and western suburbs has devolved into a strange stew of government buildings, retail and residential, with pockets of fast-food and bank drive-throughs.
Last week, following closely a well-considered master plan for the street, the Oak Park village board wisely approved a new office and retail complex for Madison and Highland. Of course, there was scattered local opposition. But this is a notable privately funded project backed by local people ready to invest in Madison’s future. We applaud them as well as the village board for making this happen.