There is a lot to like in the faculty contract OK’d last week by teachers and the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School. The pay freeze — total in year one, partial in the second year — is a welcome relief after five years of extravagant pay hikes. Untethering the school from a rigid eight-period class day to allow scheduling innovations that should work better for teaching some students is a breakthrough.
Also notable is the two-year duration of the pact. The school has a lot of work packed into year one as it attempts to set up a basis for substantial changes just in time to enter negotiations for another new contract.
A strategic plan for the school — and you have to go back three superintendents to find the last such plan — will be crafted starting this fall. Since strategic plans are all about process, it will be critical that the school board undertakes a plan protocol that is inclusive of a widely defined batch of stakeholders and which is open and transparent as it proceeds.
We’ve been critical of this school board for being too tight-lipped in the months leading to the faculty contract talks about the broad reform initiatives it hoped to attain. Turns out the main initiative was to buy two years’ time to undertake more planning. That’s fine. This has turned out well, to this point.
But in the planning process ahead, we need to find out what OPRF is going to be about over the next decade. This school needs to move to the front edge of teacher evaluation and accountability. That most certainly does not mean something so simpleminded as teaching to a standardized test. With the many challenges an urban high school faces — yes, an achievement gap between racial groups — the evaluation methods will need to be much more nuanced than that. Compensation with a meaningful merit aspect will be essential. Methods for retraining or removing a small percentage of failing teachers need to be in this plan.
Technology in instruction. Discipline and counseling strategies. Cost-cutting and long-term financial controls. Enrollment trends. Vocational training alongside college prep. There is a lot to talk about, a lot to prioritize.
And what is eventually adopted by the school board will be, in large measure, the foundation of the next teacher contract.
We are enthused to see the school entering this essential planning process. We look forward to the broad community’s active engagement.