Last week’s election for the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School was instructive in several ways. The discord of the past year over the infernal pool debate was reflected by discerning voters in two ways.

Jeff Weissglass, the current school board president, and inevitably the face of the board during this turmoil, was turned out of office. A bright and decent fellow, Weissglass was held to account for a school board that could never get ahead on this issue and, once it was behind, had poor instincts on productive next steps.

However, the two challengers created from the maelstrom of intense opposition to the pool proposal, Doug Springer and Jack Davidson, failed to be seen as more than single-issue candidates. And voters, who were almost exactly split in the pool referendum last November, were correct in understanding that the challenges and opportunities at our high school go well beyond where a new pool will go and how it will be paid for.

Interestingly, Matt Baron and Craig Iseli, two newcomers who acknowledged they had voted against the pool but did not make it a mantra, easily won election. They offered wide-ranging platforms that reflected deep knowledge of school finances and community connections.

The newly reconstituted school board will take office in May. We’d offer this advice:

The most fundamental issue at OPRF is equity. Period. What are we doing as a deep-in-the-bones progressive community to actively, boldly create intentional change that targets equal opportunity for each student? Are we willing to try, and even to fail, rather than continue our lackluster and frustratingly incremental efforts on equity?

This is the moment. This is the right board for this issue. With Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, it is the right superintendent. There is money in the bank, though this is not primarily about spending more money. It is about willingness to take risks, to offend, to hold accountable, to get people on board, to reach our potential.

The union contract with faculty is coming up this year. There is no path to equity that does not include risk-taking and accountability that incorporates the teachers. Four years ago as District 97 crafted an audacious teacher contract, OPRF caved to the status quo. That can’t happen again. What are we measuring? What are we rewarding? What work rules need to change? A year from now when the new contract is signed we will know the seriousness of this board and this administration on equity. It will be apparent.

The soon-to-be-remade school board gave Pruitt-Adams a supersized role with a super citizens committee intended to reach consensus on the swimming pool and everything that trails along with it. We admire the new superintendent’s confidence that such a consensus is there to be crafted. But with all the hope this school board has shown in this superintendent, it can’t leave her hanging and needs to offer her support and lifelines along this path. 

Right now the swimming pool is wagging the dog. Since virtually everyone agrees we need a new swimming pool of some size and cost and there is no one left to defend the botched and extended processes that got OPRF to this point, perhaps there is a unique opportunity to compromise on what is inevitably going to be an imperfect plan.

Focus on equity. Let the rest follow.

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