Pivoting. But pivoting with consistency.
A neat trick.
But it is what I heard Friday from Dr. Carol Kelley, superintendent of Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools, during a one-of-a-kind Zoom meeting which also included Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, superintendent at OPRF; Village Manager Cara Pavlicek; and, quietly in the background, Mike Charley, the public health director for Oak Park village government.
The call came about after a sincere question I asked of Charley by email earlier in the week. With the two local school districts making divergent reopening plans — D97 in a hybrid in-school and remote learning model and OPRF going nearly fully remote for the first semester — did Charley still have the authority to dictate schools must close the same way he shuttered playgrounds and restaurants back in the spring?
I heard back from Pavlicek who said it was unclear if the village had that power but touted the active collaboration ongoing between the three entities. The Zoom meeting was set.
Curiously, Pavlicek opened the session by saying that while the village board did not extend the village’s “state of emergency” after early June, it did extend Charley’s extensive authority through Nov. 15. So theoretically the public health director retains that authority.
All on the call agreed that they’d actively follow any directives coming from Gov. J.B. Pritzker. And there was consensus that the entire situation will remain fluid even as aspects of the current plans continue to be built out. “We’ll continue to look at data,” said Kelley. “We are poised and ready to pivot to remote,” she said.
The high school got criticized by some last week when it said all classes would be remote. Why is Evanston Township High School planning a hybrid model was a social media cry? But by Saturday, Evanston Now, a digital newsroom in the north suburb, reported ETHS was shifting its plans to all remote for at least the first three weeks of the semester.
In neighboring Forest Park, there were hosannas and hissing after the elementary schools announced full-time, fully-masked school five days a week. The teacher’s union, among others, objected. And on Monday the district did a 180 and said all classes would be remote at least until Halloween.
These are all good people. Doing their best in a hell of a situation. There just isn’t a correct answer. And the virus dictates next steps.
All of the people on the call were fully aware of the deep stress all constituents are feeling. One of the superintendents described everyone suffering “PTSD in the spring.”
The schools pledge that remote learning — two days or five a week — will be far better when schools reopen. Tighter curriculum, more structure, consequential grading are in store. Pruitt-Adams, though, stressed great attention has been placed on creating social emotional tools to keep students from further anxiety and mental health issues.
“Our first week will be all about relationship building between students and staff,” she said. There will be a strong focus on freshmen whose arrival at OPRF “will be unlike any other class before.”
Just underway are discussions of how to offer after-school services to elementary students previously served by Hephzibah programs in all the elementary schools and by the park district. The grade schools are clear they can’t accommodate the programs while keeping their buildings clean and safe. And Charley was most clear that opening up high school facilities to after-school programs would “involve lots of logistics.”
So those discussions continue.