1) Weninger in, Weninger out
The rollercoaster ride concerning District 200 Superintendent Attila Weninger’s contract negotiations was the top education story of 2009. In October, he announced his retirement after failing to reach a contract extension with the school board. A month later, talks reopened. But just two weeks ago, the second-round of talks ground to a halt and the superintendent and board agreed to part ways. He’ll leave at the end of the school year.
2) Stadium lights-Yeah, baby Yeah!!!
As stated in last year’s Top 10 list, the approval of lights at Oak Park and River Forest High School’s football stadium in ’09 would likely crack this year’s Top 5 or maybe land at No. 1. Just missed it. The first ever Friday night football game took place on Sept. 18.
3) TIFs, parking and crossing guards
Both Districts 200 and 97 had some financial disputes with the Village of Oak Park in 2009. The three entities continue to wrangle over Tax Increment Financing (TIF) payments owed to the school districts by the village. There was also the issue of the village raising parking fees for the two districts, along with Fenwick High School, at the start of the school year. And Dist. 97 is not keen on having to pay for its own crossing guards and school resource officers, which the village is threatening to stop funding by next fall.
4) A full day for Dist. 97 kindergartners
The full-day kindergarten program opened district-wide in Dist. 97 this year. Beye, Irving and Longfellow schools piloted the program in 2007. It expanded to Hatch, Lincoln, Mann and Holmes earlier this fall. Whittier already had a mixed-level full-day program. And to the surprise of many, due to the arcane nature of state school funding, the all-day kindergarten seems to be “free” to the district.
5) School board elections
Both Oak Park boards of education saw new members elected in April. Jennifer Reddy and Jim Gates won seats in Dist. 97, while Amy McCormack and Terry Finnegan joined the Dist. 200 school board.
6) Diversity at issue in D97
The hiring of only one minority instructor out of 36 new teachers in Dist. 97 this year is troubling for the elementary school district. So much so that Superintendent Constance Collins – the first woman and African-American in the top spot in the district’s history – vowed to improve on hiring minority teachers next fall.
7) No AYP for D200, two D97 schools
Oak Park and River Forest High School failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for a third straight year on state standardized tests in ’09. Dist. 97 as a whole did make AYP, but Irving and Whittier schools did not for some student subgroups. This is the first time since 2004 that every elementary school did not meet standards.
8) ‘Student-ranking’ list denounced
In February, a list was circulated by some students at OPRF ranking freshmen girls by categories, including appearance and alleged sexual experience. The school’s student-run newspaper, Trapeze, denounced the list and chastised those who created it and other students who found it amusing. The students behind the list faced disciplinary action by the school. Though the issue became public, school officials opted against addressing the matter publicly due to a concern for the girls’ and their families’ privacy.
9) Custodians get to keep their jobs
After weeks of in-house negotiations and public discourse, the high school reached a contract agreement with its custodians earlier this spring. Administration had considered outsourcing for custodial services as a cost-saving measure.
10) OPRF’s ‘movie man’
Speaking of custodians, Wednesday Journal profiled some of the workers earlier this year, including Kevin Sorensen, a 20-year custodian at OPRF who also moonlights as a Hollywood stuntman. He was among the stunt crew that worked on 2008’s The Dark Knight, which filmed in Chicago the summer of 2007. The stuntmen were honored by the Screen Actors Guild this year as best movie stunt ensemble for the film. Sorensen, an OPRF graduate, has worked on more than 50 film and television projects during his 17 years as a stuntman. After we published our profile in February, local and national media picked up his story, making Sorensen something of a star in his own right.