Earlier this month at an OPRF High School board meeting, we heard outrage from our community about the high school’s proposal to cut student-focused activities. Frankly, the criticism was well deserved. The proposed budget cuts focused on special education, sports, student programming and the pools in the middle of a pandemic while spending over $40 million on the Imagine Project.
Adding insult to injury, our children have not seen the inside of our high school since last March and the proposal was to cut the exact activities our kids are yearning for to feel any sense of connection. The presentation was short-sighted, incomplete and inadequate. Others have suggested it was more insidious; we all have our opinions.
More importantly, if you re-listen to the three-plus hours of public comments, you’ll find that it was about much more than budget cuts to special education, student clubs and pools. The comments were passionate statements about what people believe our community stands for as well as what our schools should stand for. The comments were critical yet hopeful about our future.
Community members explained how academically-focused schools that also offer excellent extracurricular programs will attract young families. This then leads to vibrant communities with a growing tax base. Our children wrote about how being part of a high school sports team or club is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Past Huskies emphasized that when students put in hard work together on teams, such experiences break down barriers and offer leadership opportunities along the way.
Folks also mentioned how academics, school spirit and a sense of community matter, and not just when it’s politically convenient. You could feel the aspirations our community members have for their children and our high school. The discussion was about much more than pools. Let’s hope our board actually listened to our concerns and begins to talk with us and not at us.
If our current OPRF Board of Education and administration felt that our out-going President should have never replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg so close to the election, then our current leaders should not hastily move forward with replacing our superintendent. It’s the same situation, but worse. The local election season is underway, our community will have elected new board members by April and our superintendent is not retiring until July. Why the artificial deadline of April? Another question to ask is how many single-school districts have both a superintendent and an assistant superintendent?
I encourage this board to take a deep breath and allow our community to participate in this superintendent selection process. Some may go so far as to say that it should be someone local who understands our community and aspirations — call us crazy? Our board was so vocal earlier this month about how they want to build bridges with the community and are willing to look at all expenses at our school. Here is a chance.
I hope our board can be reflective enough to step outside of their own echo chamber. Our board should want to work with the entire Oak Park and River Forest community and have an honest and open discussion about our next leaders. Such a discussion just started at the last board meeting. What will our board and administration do now? More echo-chambering or more actual outreach and listening to everyone? Time will tell.
OPRF does not belong to any outgoing superintendent. OPRF does not belong to any single board of education. OPRF belongs to all the students, all the parents and to the entire community. Those public comments earlier this month were about our community asking our board to listen. Yes, actually listen to what our community wants in a high school. Go Huskies!
Ross Lissuzzo is an Oak Park native and a River Forest resident.