Oak Park and River Forest High School plans to hire a new substance abuse counselor this summer through the same local social service agency it has contracted with for a number of years.

The District 200 school board is expected to renew its contract with Thrive Counseling Center of Oak Park next week.

Along with replacing Margo Bristow, OPRF’s substance abuse counselor who stepped down last Friday after seven years, the high school is looking to reshape the position. The next counselor will focus on proactive prevention among students as well as treatment.

Bristow was a popular figure among parents, students and staff. She announced earlier this spring that she would return to private practice at the end of this school year. While at OPRF, Bristow conducted workshops and classroom presentations on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and also dealt with such issues as online bullying. But a significant amount of her time involved counseling kids who had substance abuse issues and working with families.

Among students, rumors swirled that the high school was not going to replace Bristow. But Principal Nathaniel Rouse said OPRF will replace her, adding that the high school also wants to change the job description and is working with Thrive on that.

Daniel Kill, president and CEO of Thrive, 120 S. Marion St., said the agency conducted a search for the position and expects to hire someone by early July.

The social service agency provides one substance counselor and four resource managers to OPRF, which in turn foots the bill for their salaries and some benefits. The contract is for one year. The amount, however, is determined by Thrive, Kill said.

As to changing the nature of the position, Rouse said, “We’re working with them to curtail the job description a little bit to make it more proactive, which was different than what Margo’s position was. We will still have one position but our hope is to curtail it a little bit more … not just in education but getting it out there that there are people in the building you can come to in the event that there are problems.”

Rouse added that they did not want the position to be “reactionary.” A student, for instance, might exhibit certain behaviors that warrant a referral to the substance abuse counselor rather than a discipline dean. Changing the position was also suggested, and supported, by parents, Rouse said.

“One of the things we learned was that a lot of her clients were identified proactively, as opposed to people who went through the disciplinary system. So we want to strengthen that and make sure this person has the ability to do that.”

Kill said his agency decided to look outward in order to accommodate the change. The person filling the position will be both a specialist and have a master’s level education in assessment. Kill added that Thrive’s current staff has conducted prevention programs at middle schools in Oak Park, Cicero and Berwyn for more than a decade, but none had the required qualifications for OPRF’s post.

Last year at this time, the OPRF school board renewed its contract with Thrive for about $300,000 total for all five positions. Kill said that amount changes from year to year.

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