With circumstances varying from joyful, the pregnancy of Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, to tragic, the death of Peter Traczyk, to unexplained, the bowing out of Steven Schuler, this campaign has been whittled down to five candidates for three open seats. All five are viable, thoughtful candidates.
Our choices, though, are clear: incumbent Sharon Patchak-Layman and newcomers Sara Dixon Spivey and Fred Arkin.
As she has during 16 remarkable years on the boards of both the high school and District 97 elementary schools, Patchak-Layman remains the assured, gracious dissenting voice that colleagues isolate and voters (and this newspaper) always strongly back.
And here’s the thing after all these years, Patchak-Layman has been right on most issues. On those issues — transparency, finance, discipline, teaching methods — we now find board members and administrators largely moving toward her long-held positions.
Spivey is pretty new to Oak Park — two years — but has quickly made her place as a volunteer on Oak Park’s Liquor Control Review Board and as a thoughtful, clear voice for progressive change at the high school. We particularly admire her views on the necessity of speeding efforts on minority achievement, rethinking the culture of discipline at the school, and her critical eye on past financial practices as the school piled up taxpayer cash.
Arkin has long and positive connections to OPRF and its students. He has been an active volunteer in the school’s athletic program. In our talks with him, that experience provides a particular resonance in his sense of the school’s many strengths and its challenges.
He has a focus on the achievement gap that is strong. And his background in business gives him a good handle on a board member’s role in representing taxpayers’ interests while looking out for the institution.
Leaving Jennifer Cassell off our list of endorsements was a narrow choice.
A final caution. No matter which candidates voters elect, this school board will be left without representation from River Forest. That is problematic and will require conscious outreach by board members and, in the next election, an active showing by River Foresters.