This is the moment for Oak Park and River Forest High School. Too many decades of indecisiveness on complex issues of race and equity, a decade spent piling up cash unfairly snatched from taxpayers, a half-century of polishing but not investing in its physical plant, and a culture that handed over fat raises to staff without significant demands for change or regard to the impact on taxpayers have all brought us to an inflection point.
Each of these issues, all of these issues twined, have been set on the tee by the current school board and administration with a steady push by a community of activists both outside and inside 201 N. Scoville Ave.
It will be the school board chosen by voters on April 2 that determines if District 200 takes bold, confident action on these multiple and related fronts or somehow squanders this moment of transformation.
On election day, voters will have six candidates for the three open seats on the school board. Four of those candidates would be well positioned to lead in this moment. Two in our opinion have a less holistic understanding of the issues at the school. They are Vic Guarino and Amanda Massie.
Our strong endorsements go to incumbent Sara Dixon Spivy and newcomers Gina Harris and Ralph Martire. Narrowly left off our list is incumbent Fred Arkin.
Spivy has played a critical role on the current board as it has undertaken the complicated path of leading on racial equity, finally putting the albatross of the $100 million cash reserve to some good use, undertaking a major capital plan that focuses solely on classrooms and shared student spaces, and was patient and firm in negotiating a teachers contract that bends toward equity and is not a slap in the face to taxpayers.
Ralph Martire is a newcomer only to OPRF. He has been an extraordinarily effective school board member and president of the River Forest District 90 elementary school board. Martire was there as that district, to our astonished delight, acknowledged that it was a high-performing academic district with a serious racial opportunity gap. Coupled with Supt. Ed Condon, that board has been bold and decisive in taking on equity. He brings that experience, three years on the high school’s Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee, as well as his widely respected professional experience as the executive director of the bi-partisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Martire will be a stellar addition to this board.
Gina Harris is a longtime educator with a focus on equity, restorative justice and teacher training. An OPRF alum and now the parent of OPRF students, Harris brings frontline experience in how equity challenges play out in the everyday lives of our children. She brings uplifting ideas on unity and pragmatic ideas on how to control spending.
Not endorsing Fred Arkin is a hard choice. This is more like leaving a talented player off the playoff roster than in any way diminishing his talent or passion for the work of the high school. Like Spivy, Arkin gets full credit for bringing the high school to this decisive point. In our opinion though, Harris adds a voice that needs to be heard on this school board right now.