Whoever is elected to the Oak Park and River Forest District 200 school board on April 2 will walk into some pretty heady responsibilities — a series of major capital improvement projects and a raft of equity-related measures perhaps chief among them.
In a recent interview, Sara Dixon Spivy — one of two incumbents running for re-election in a field of six candidates vying for three open seats — said that she hopes that the progress she and her colleagues have made in her first term can continue.
“My reason for running is because I’m concerned that we will lose some of the progress we’d made,” Spivy said. “The work that we have done in the past four years has brought us years ahead of where we were just four years ago in terms of equity and making sure we’re treating all students fairly and kindly and supporting them in the ways they need.”
Spivy lauded Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, adding that the board’s decision to hire her two years ago was its “most long-term, impactful choice” and that Pruitt-Adams “has never disappointed … she’s getting things done.”
Spivy also touted the board’s ability to contain costs, the introduction of a less punitive student dress code, the development of a long-term facilities master plan that catalyzed what’s likely to be the busiest period of capital improvements in the district’s history and the implementation of a transgender equity policy — all of which happened while she was on the board.
“I’m really, really proud of our transgender equity policy,” she said of the measure that formalized additional protections for LGBTQ students and families. “That’s one of the most progressive policies in the nation and a huge source of pride.”
With the board having prioritized a series of initial capital projects, most of them addressing the needs of special education and disabled students, the hard part will be paring down total construction costs related to the individual projects in the plan. Combined, district officials estimate, the projects could cost around $218 million.
Spivy said she’s optimistic that the district can raise outside money to pay for some capital needs, such improvements to athletic facilities.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to raise private funds, which should take a big dent out of the tax burden that might come if we were to do the full-blown facilities reconstruction,” she said, adding that the district could better communicate to constituents that the master plan “is not a single project.”
Other issues that the new board could confront after April 2 are a teacher contract that has yet to be ratified, the rollout of a new, student-led racial equity course unit and the development of a comprehensive racial equity policy.
Spivy said that she anticipates “hopefully” that the board will have ratified a new teacher contract before the new board is sworn-in.
“What I hope to see happen is that the racial equity policy will be similar to the gender equity policy, where the procedure and the policy are released together so that everyone has a very transparent look at how we envision it going,” she said. “Policies can sound great and be implemented horribly and then they’re useless. So, having the procedure well-thought out and well-planned is going to be the most important part of the rollout.”
Spivy said that her goals for her time on the board haven’t changed in four years and that, although she thinks the district has “made a lot of progress,” she doesn’t think the progress is done.
“I think we’re on the cusp of lasting change and that’s really what I want to make sure happens. I’ve got two step-kids and my own son, and they’re all of color and they’re all boys,” said Spivy, who added that one was 5 years old. “I’m on a timeline, here.”