Seldom have we seen an elected body step back, rethink and reshape a critical decision that it had thoughtfully, though narrowly, made. It happened last week when a swing vote on the District 200 Oak Park and River Forest High School board swung the other way and opened a path for Supt. Attila Weninger to have his contract extended.
It was the right decision.
Regular readers will know that we have been increasingly clear in our support of the superintendent. We see him as the strong leader this school has long lacked, a leader who has focused on critical issues, though ones that are not always obvious or visible. Repairing the discipline system, improving data gathering, intensely focusing on key hires, are not attention-grabbing. But they are stage-setting. And here, Dr. Weninger has set the school on the right path to focus increasingly on critical, highly visible matters such as the achievement gap and improved technology.
We applaud Amy McCormack, a new board member, for making the choice that should allow the superintendent’s contract to be extended for one year. We applaud the board members who worked behind the scenes to shift the outcome. We applaud Weninger for easing in his outlook and being willing to accept a short-term renewal, at least as a starting point for what we hope will be a long-term connection.
A word about Dr. Dietra Millard, who until last Thursday was the president of the school board. She stepped down as president having felt blind sided by an unexpected move to renew the superintendent’s contract. In a letter in today’s paper, and in an interview with the Journal, she emphasized that she was not troubled by the board’s decision to re-open contract talks with Weninger – although she has not been among his supporters. Rather, she says, she was offended by the back-channel politicking that led to the reversal.
We understand that viewpoint though we don’t agree with it. We have watched with admiration as this board has gradually moved toward its rightful place as the governing body of District 200. For too long it has deferred to the faculty, to tradition, occasionally to a superintendent. This stance has left far too many difficult issues in a strange limbo at OPRF.
Dee Millard is a strong and sincere board member. She cares deeply about this high school. Though she is frustrated today, we hope her colleagues and the school superintendent can show her their support despite sincere differences on this issue.