Today the Journal honors the Collaboration for Early Childhood with our annual Oak Park Villagers of the Year award. We believe this nonprofit’s long efforts to improve the educational and social opportunities for Oak Park’s youngest citizens goes straight to the heart of educational challenges facing this village and this nation.

Reclaiming what are lost years for too many at-risk kids from birth to 5 years old is the surest strategy for closing educational and social gaps that manifest themselves through elementary, middle school and high school years in Oak Park.

This year, after a decade of work and preparation, the Collaboration put forward a bold but simple plan to reach out directly to families of these youngsters and to offer them direct access to the wide range of services our village currently offers families. Pre-school and quality daycare. Educational testing. Health screenings. Family coaching.

The research is clear. Our youngest kids are most ready to learn and explore their world when they are very little. Children in families with the knowledge and the resources to provide that stimulation, that learning environment, arrive at full-day K ready to succeed. Children who miss such opportunities begin their formal education with enormous deficits both educationally and socially.

The Collaboration has been working quietly in recent years to build a coalition of local government, social agency and opinion leader support for its outreach plan. While a modest plan in the scheme of things, it will require ongoing funding from local taxpayers through the offices of our local governments. The primary players rightly are the two public school districts — Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and Oak Park and Rivers Forest High School District 200 — and the Oak Park village government.

It does not surprise us that the village government, and here Village President David Pope gets great credit, is playing a leading role. It does not surprise us that District 97, where several of the Collaboration’s leaders previously served as school board members, is fully committed.

And, sadly, it does not surprise us that it is District 200’s board which is still debating whether it should offer expanded financial support. We have watched with some patience as this board assured itself it was within legal boundaries to support an educational effort that is not immediately connected to high school-aged children. But our patience is waning as this board continues to dither in its customary isolationist mode.

The moment is here, District 200, to confidently join in this essential effort. Yours is the school where the academic and social achievement gaps rooted in the toddler years play out in remedial classrooms and disciplinary quandaries. Yours is the local government body with the greatest financial resources and yet you hem and haw over paying just a fair share.

Enough.

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