When I first moved to Oak Park almost four years ago, I thought I was moving to my version of paradise. But I soon realized my assessment was premature. Student discipline and achievement disparities between white and black students at the high school are stark and pervasive, and as the adoring mother of a biracial son, it worries me. I used to think that OPRF High School’s Board of Education should spend more time discussing those issues — and not some facilities plan — because that has nothing to do with issues of equity.
Or does it?
The high school has not had a major infrastructure improvement since 1967 — since before this community made a deliberate commitment to integration when African Americans started moving here in significant numbers. Many of the things we most love about Oak Park stem from policies implemented in the ’60s and early ’70s to prevent “white flight” as black families moved here from the West Side.
Those visionary Oak Parkers worked diligently to make us the vibrant, progressive community we are today. They enacted a fair housing ordinance, adopted a diversity statement, stopped displaying for-sale signs, and founded the Oak Park Regional Housing Center to safeguard our integration.
It is a privilege to be a part of this incredible place. But it comes with a reciprocal obligation.
The suggestion that upgrading performing arts, classrooms, and aquatics come instead of addressing race issues is a false dichotomy. It is not an either/or proposition. We don’t heal our broken leg instead of attending college or repair our leaking roof instead of mowing our lawn. Without a commitment to improving the spaces for all our children, we are lying when we say we are interested in equity, integration, and educational excellence.
The world has changed considerably over the last century. The sexes are no longer segregated, teaching no longer means lecturing, and we acknowledge that separate is not equal. We appreciate all of the gifts our children have, whether it be their artistic ability, intellect, or athletic prowess, and they deserve a safe and adequate facility in which to nurture them.
Sound infrastructure is not a sexy topic but is vitally important for our community’s continued vibrancy and success. This is even more true for our high school because it is our community’s greatest asset and has the most important of functions — educating our children and anchoring our economic vitality. The quality of our schools is what attracts new residents and the promise of maintaining that quality is our brand.
We don’t need a stopgap solution — we need one that is forward thinking and anticipates future needs.
We have been frugal in the stewardship of our resources for decades; the pools were built almost a hundred years ago, and our last infrastructure improvement was almost 50 years ago.
I will be voting “yes” for the referendum because this facilities plan is the best use of our tax dollars and treats all of our students as equally deserving.
Sara Spivy Dixon is a member of the District 200 school board.