Recent articles have highlighted the persistent and systemic achievement and opportunity gaps at OPRF High School. As many in the community know, the division of academic success at OPRF too often runs along racial lines. Students of color are disproportionately relegated to fewer academic opportunities. This disparity cannot continue.
District 200 needs to take deliberate steps to further educational equity at OPRF. The board must commit to providing a quality education to each and every OPRF student. To best accomplish this mission, the D200 board and OPRF administration must implement a framework for evaluating future policies and strategies through a racial-equity lens.
Much in the way an environmental impact statement assesses the positive and negative environmental effects of a proposed action, an equity lens considers the positive and negative effects of proposed school policies and procedures on students who suffer academically because of the systemic and structural biases in place. Such an inquiry seeks to remove unintended barriers to opportunity and achievement.
Implementation of a racial-equity lens simply asks D200 — when it makes decisions or policies regarding hiring, discipline, facilities, curricula, school fees, staff, etc. — to consider the potential impact on all students, and particularly those disproportionately disadvantaged by the prevailing status quo. Direct consideration by D200 and the OPRF administration of the racial impact of school policy decisions will help to bring negative and racially disparate outcomes to light and to avoid them going forward.
A racial-equity lens is not a radical idea. States and school districts around the country (including Oregon, Minneapolis, and Seattle public schools) have adopted a racial-equity lens, committing those entities to considering the future financial and societal impacts of not providing a quality education to all their students.
Closer to home, District 90 in River Forest has embraced the concept of equity in education. D90 has adopted an equity vision statement, has instituted both an Inclusiveness Advisory Board and a Board Equity Committee, and is committed to implementing policies and practices in curriculum, hiring, and professional development to ensure robust educational opportunities for all River Forest school children. District 97 in Oak Park likewise has an equity vision statement and seems to understand the urgent need for equity and improvements in classroom culture, cultural responsiveness, and equity considerations in leadership and professional development. All three Oak Park and River Forest school districts must continue their work with the recognition that excellence in education requires a commitment to action as well as vision.
To its credit, OPRF has made strides in recent years and has undertaken various equity initiatives, including implicit-bias training for teachers, a freshman mentoring program, as well as a move away from zero tolerance discipline policies and toward restorative justice practices.
OPRF High School is poised to achieve great things. D200’s hiring of Superintendent Pruitt-Adams is a significant step forward. Dr. Pruitt-Adams has the vision and determination necessary to lead initiatives that will shrink the achievement gap at OPRF and advocate for the academic success of all OPRF students.
It is time for OPRF to put true equity into action and to make a racial-equity analysis an institutionalized component of any inquiry or action D200 undertakes. It is time for D200 and our OPRF community to embrace the hard but valuable work of delivering a rich and fulfilling education to all of our students. It takes a village to raise a child. Oak Park and River Forest are our villages.
Laura Hardwicke is a member of Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE). Melanie McQueen is a member of African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education (APPLE). Anthony Clark is the founder of Suburban Unity Alliance (SUA) and an OPRF faculty member.