Change is hard. When it involves a parent’s child, a teacher’s classroom, when it centers on notably changing a school district’s culture and its own sense of its history, when that change is driven from on top by a leader for whom talking simply and directly is not altogether natural, then the jagged edges are exposed.

That’s the situation in Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools right now. Morale is tough. Teachers feel unsupported and questioned by both the administration and parents. New faces in newly invented administrative positions, new protocols for teaching, discipline and technology are being layered on. The profound dimensions of the changes sought relate to race and equity and are, therefore, fraught.

Right now, Lincoln School on south Grove is the epicenter of worry and frustration. Having, for multiple and not necessarily connected reasons, spun through four principals in four years will unnerve a school community, especially one that has been especially tight and high in self-esteem.

Good for Supt. Carol Kelley for frankly acknowledging last week that the rolling leadership debacle at Lincoln is “unacceptable.” Good for the district to hire an equity consultant, Reesheda Graham Washington, ready to listen widely and report back hard criticisms of the district from HQ on Madison to a segment of overbearing parents who complete the squeeze felt by many teachers. Teachers too, we believe, have to step up to this hard change.

We are in full support of decisive efforts to build equity in this district. We know such change brings doubts and brings pain before it brings the glimmer of transformation. Building the stamina to persevere is going to require the grace of listening well, the healing of acknowledging errors openly, honestly, quickly, and a willingness to celebrate when things go well.

It’s a hard road. There is no turning back. 

PASO’s path

It is painful to watch overflowing tensions between staff, management and the board at PASO West Suburban Action Project. Seven of eight staff members are currently on strike against the nonprofit which does essential work on behalf of immigrants in our immediate area.

Workers complain of a toxic work environment. The board has hired a specialized law firm to mediate the dispute, a response workers have thus far rejected. At least three board members have resigned as this dispute has ignited.

We don’t know the inside details. We don’t take a side. We hear worker complaints of screaming and mocking. We hear remaining board members talk of growing pains while acknowledging the rights of workers to organize. We know that Oak Park attorney Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the organization’s invaluable executive director, is the embodiment of this organization and brings passion and intensity to this work. Calls for her resignation, we fear, could effectively end this necessary organization’s work. 

Certainly we are at a moment in our country’s history where the full-on assault against immigrants by Donald Trump is a crisis, and effective opposition is vital. PASO has led that opposition in Chicago with effectiveness stretching from the courts to suburban city halls, from well-played media outreach to compassionate support.

We need PASO. And right now PASO needs compassionate leadership that we don’t see coming from an outside law firm. Acknowledgment of pain inflicted, a listening plan that puts all the parties in a room, a determination to make change so forward movement is possible. That is what we want to see. 

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