Every institution has its culture. For good and for ill.

In Oak Park’s District 97 elementary and middle schools, one of the chronic fault lines is the debate over individual school autonomy vs. district-wide problem solving. Quirky is cool when the test scores are good. Unique is the enemy when the numbers sink.

At a recent meeting of the District 97 school board we saw two takes on that single cultural issue. One frustrated assessment came from school board members reacting to four of the district’s 10 schools failing to make “adequate yearly progress” on the annual ISAT tests while two schools, Irving and Whittier, bounced back from failing a year ago to make AYP this year. The message was: Let’s take the intervention lessons Irving and Whittier learned this year and export them to the troubled schools.

It wasn’t a new message from board members as this wasn’t the first year some schools fell down on the ever increasing standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Clearly though, some board members felt that the previous administration had not heard the message and executed shared solutions. So they sent the message again, this time to new Superintendent Al Roberts.

We’ll give the new guy points for being a quick learner. He was well clued in to the “autonomy and individuality” school of schooling. We suspect he hears about it when he gathers his Administrative Council near to him.

So in responding to the board he tred a fine line. He already sees ideas being shared between buildings, he said. He wants to make sure the concepts being touted are genuine and the key aspects are discernible and transferable. His ultimate message, at least our reading of it, is he wants to see district-wide solutions implemented but he wants to do it with precision, not a rhetorical lightning bolt.

As the new superintendent he has some time. But listening to the upset of his board he knows that time is not unlimited.

Join the discussion on social media!