Coming off of notable accomplishments especially a vital new contract with the teachers but also a plan to build a modern administration building, the school board at Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools will soon be facing two daunting challenges. It must select a new superintendent this spring and it will be asking voters for a tax hike via referendum in the near future.

That makes the April 7 election of a majority of the board particularly critical. Happily voters have 10 generous citizens who have put themselves forward and in that group are some outstanding choices.

We endorse the two incumbents in the race, Bob Spatz and Jim O’Connor and newcomers Rupa Datta and Holly Spurlock.

Jim O’Connor has been on our radar since his days as founding principal of a remarkable school on the West Side. His progressive views on the steps this district must take to finally face up to the racial inequities in learning are specific and practical. He is steeped in education policy but makes it real world in ways many educators cannot. He was a force in the recently approved contract with faculty and we need his voice at the table with his clear thoughts on choosing the next superintendent. 

Bob Spatz has vast knowledge of the district’s current and past financial situation, he has a critical grasp of the arcane nature of state school finance which is going to be critical in these early days of the Rauner administration. He is also the lodestar of institutional memory, never to be overlooked.

Rupa Datta is a star waiting to break out. She is an education policy researcher at the University of Chicago by profession. Like O’Connor she has immense respect for educational data and how it should shape decisions but she talks kids.  She sees the recent contract as “transformative” but is now focused on whether its details can be implemented to best effect. Oak Park, she observes, “is not a test score district” and advocates for building partnerships with teachers and parents. Datta is a very strong candidate.

Holly Spurlock is bright, positive and focused on bringing critical management tools of planning, measuring, collaborating and building accountability to this board and this district. At the same time she grasps the art of teaching and learning, the power of building consensus, and the necessity of communicating clear goals openly and widely.

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