If school board members at Oak Park’s elementary school district were trying to signal a vote of confidence in their superintendent, attempting to reflect long-term stability in the office of their single employee, they accomplished it last week with a five-year contract renewal for Supt. Carol Kelley.

Now two years into her tenure as the head of Oak Park’s District 97 elementary and middle schools, if Kelley were to complete her full five years, it would bring her to seven years, about double the average years of service in an urban school district in America.

Being a school superintendent is a tough job, and the reporting on the hiring process across the country suggests a dwindling pool of possible candidates — that despite the rich compensation in salary, pensions and benefits. School board members come and go, expectations of what public schools must accomplish keeps broadening, social media creates instant parent polling on controversies great and small, and the very essentials of how we teach are in great and necessary flux.

Looking at the contract Kelley has now signed, the primary message we take from the school board’s bold support is its laser focus on equity and inclusion. Properly, in re-upping a professional at this level, the major portion of any added compensation is goal-driven and awarded on merit. And the goals this school board have set out all relate to how we improve the social and academic education of all our students, how we grow our teachers to excel in a changing environment, how we measure such success.

There can be no doubt that Oak Park’s elementary schools, as well as OPRF, are aligned with purposeful goals on equity. It doesn’t do much good to ask what took so long, so we won’t.

If Kelley is to succeed, she will need to bring the broad community, as well as the school constituencies, with her. So far, such necessary outreach has not been her strong suit. Perhaps it is her background as an engineer, but she can get lost, as we have previously noted, in jargon and data. Sincere people who ought to be her fans, question her genuine interest in listening and adapting. Her communication, both internal and external, needs to reflect some of the passion, some of the excitement and worry of the risks that must be taken to accomplish these audacious goals.

So monitoring those efforts, creating more opportunities for such engagement, ought to be a final and critical goal of a school board which has put a lot on the line to open a path for her success.

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