There is a window for bold change. Rarely does it open. And certainly that window will close if there is not discernible action, or just as certainly, if the bold action flops.
Right now at Oak Park and River Forest High School there is a remarkable aligning of forces for substantive action to take on inequity baked into the school’s history and current practices. A superintendent with vision has assembled her team. The school board is unanimous that change is essential. The faculty has coalesced remarkably around a seismic change in curriculum for freshmen aimed at advanced academic experiences for more students of color. With opposition in the villages low, but with a clear pulse, the school has seemingly been on an accelerated course to overhaul the full curriculum for incoming freshmen in the fall of 2021.
And now it isn’t.
Rollout has been delayed a year until the 2022 school year. The administration and the faculty, in an encouraging joint statement, said that making such substantive changes and doing it right simply required more planning. We get it. This rollout has always been ambitious and complex.
It has also always been aiming toward that open window.
As frustrated school board members expressed last week when the news went public, this bold action was intended to be this board’s bold action. A fully unified board’s action. Sure there is some pride in accomplishment at stake here. Mainly, though, we heard worries from sitting board members, some likely retiring board members, that a contested election for the school board could shift the dynamics of support. That’s real. This is a school district that balled up construction of a swimming pool and made it the main topic of OPRF conversation for the better part of a decade.
That said, the greater worry is that the foundational step of sincere equity action could fail without adequate planning or with poor execution. This plan touches most members of faculty, and dozens of courses in English, history, science, language need to be remade. We would also argue the district needs to do a better job of telling its story to the wide community.
The decision is made. Delay a year. But to keep that window of change open, OPRF needs to hold this coalition together, keep the urgency of change vivid, and really knock this new curriculum out of the park.