The years just ahead could be breakout years for Oak Park and River Forest High School. Or we could have more well-intentioned meandering with a side of overblown outrage. The difference will be in the men and women voters choose for the school board on April 4.
Among seven candidates we choose four: two incumbents and two newcomers. Left off our list are Jack Davidson and Doug Springer. They came to this election season from their strong and active opposition to last fall’s pool referendum. In an endorsement interview at Wednesday Journal, Springer acknowledged that at the start of this race “I was a single-issue candidate.” He now sees himself as a candidate with a broader understanding of the issues facing OPRF.
Perhaps both Springer and Davidson have begun to grasp the complexities ahead for school board members. But their answers to us felt more rote, more narrow than the nuanced responses we gathered from candidates who came to this race with interests deeper than one issue. These are not bad men, but there are better choices.
Also missing from our list is Jeff Weissglass, an incumbent board member and the current board president. Understandable but unfortunate circumstances led to Weissglass rising too quickly to board leadership. And while he is smart and decent, passionate about education, he has not succeeded as the board’s leader and it is fair to judge him on that basis.
To say, as he did in a Journal essay last week, that the current board “took on a 15-year-stalemate around our outdated, crumbling pools,” is to spin a story of a decades-long botch by this and previous OPRF boards and administrations that led to a painful and unnecessary community battle. It is time for new leadership.
We actively support the re-election of incumbents Tom Cofsky and Jackie Moore. Moore is exceptionally strong on making goals of greater equity real and immediate. In remaking the school’s long-troubled discipline system, in focusing on more varied ways students learn and teachers must teach, on bringing more voices, including student voices, into substantive conversations, Moore is an essential member of this board.
Cofsky brings his business approach to education in ways that elevate discussions. He sees complex issues with clarity, mixing the need for determined action with a needed focus on measuring results and adapting strategies. He is a strong board member.
Matt Baron has distinguished himself in recent years as president of the Oak Park Library Board. During his tenure, the library has brought true innovation to the ways it engages with library visitors previously seen only as annoyances and intruders. Now he is bringing his common-sense compassion to the school board along with his remarkably wide network of community members. That ability to connect will come in handy on this board.
Craig Iseli is that rare candidate who exhibits a great depth of knowledge about our schools, is articulate in laying out the many shades of grey in complex challenges and yet doesn’t wind up talking educational mush. He has clear views and states them, yet he listens well. He earns our most enthusiastic endorsement.