Both of our middle schools, Brooks and Julian, have been designated as “underperforming” by the state of Illinois under new guidelines. This designation was determined by low-income and black students not achieving up to their grade level.
Does this mean the two schools are inferior in some way? No. In fact, they both have excellent principals and highly dedicated teachers. They are both International Baccalaureate schools. They both are recognized for their performing arts programs and long list of extracurricular activities. Brooks is nationally recognized and awarded for its fantastic Bravo program which produces Broadway musicals.
No, the achievement gap is a national problem that is rooted in history and neglect. Cities such as Milwaukee, Atlanta and many others suffer from the gap. But what do we do about it locally?
When there is a crisis, is crisis intervention called for? Does that mean a pool of students with a history of underperformance get after-school, weekend or summer intensive programs to raise their level of performance? Do we form an alliance with a university education department and creatively use graduate students and others to work with these students? Or do we just pay for them to attend local private tutoring services?
We are told that programs exist at present to work with these students to improve their reading and writing skills and boost their math abilities. But they are too slow and maybe too late for eighth graders. In the next few months we will know how well our eighth grade students did on the PSAT 8/9 tests that were administered to all eighth-graders prior to entering the high school in September. There will be numerical scores.
What will we do for the students who are not adequately prepared to do high school level work? Will we pass them along to the high school and then blame District 200 for their poor grades? Or will we do everything we possibly can to help prepare them for high school? Will we work with their parents to get a commitment to do everything possible during the summer to boost their performance? We need a clear-cut plan with goals that can be met, and then at the end of the summer we evaluate our success, and, if it isn’t enough, we develop a program with the high school to continue working with these students.
Most importantly, the community buys into a real program, with real content, and real expectations. We accept no excuses from the District 97 board and administrators. It is up to them, with our support and even demands, to do what is right for these students to succeed and for us to be removed from the underperforming school list.
Incidentally, neither our K-5 schools nor OPRF High School are not on that list.
Roberta Raymond, a longtime Oak Park resident who founded the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, currently heads the OPRF Alumni Association.