This year began with promise, a Moses-like parting of the troubled waters engulfing the years-long debate over Oak Park and River Forest’s dilapidated, century-old swimming pools. 

Hard work by dozens of volunteers who labored on the Imagine OPRF Committee helped yield, finally, a path forward on some of the most substantial renovation and construction work in OPRF history. 

And then COVID-19 came and ground life everywhere to a halt, forcing elementary and high school students to learn from home and administrators in both districts to make some very difficult adjustments. 

Administrators at the elementary, high school and college levels had to make some very difficult financial decisions as the pandemic dealt blow after blow to their bottom lines. 

The pandemic threatened to completely derail the construction at OPRF, but the school board stayed the course and decided to go forward with the work, sensing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get something very big and very necessary done. 

Meanwhile, yet another tense debate broke out among Oak Park parents and community members about when and when not to return to classrooms. 

The exodus from classroom to home only widened the chasm between the haves and have-nots in Oak Park, with some students retreating to pods and cutting-edge forms of remote learning while others, especially special education students and their families, struggled to tread water, with fewer resources, less individualized attention and more distractions. 

Administrators at District 97 and District 200 eventually made adjustments and adaptations by committee, of course (this being Oak Park). But, as with Imagine OPRF, that way seems to have worked so far. 

Anxious parents eager to lend their expertise have merged minds with local school administrators and staffers to think about best practices once students return to hybrid learning, likely sometime in 2021. And the tensions seem to have condensed into collective resolve. 

The year, however, was also met with the possible exodus of D97 Supt. Carol Kelley, who was close to landing another superintendent job in Wisconsin this summer — a near-miss that seemed to have exacerbated some parents’ frustrations about the district’s pandemic planning. 

Months later, in November, D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams announced that she would retire, effective July 2021 — marking the end of an era at the high school, just as a new school board is poised to come into power after the April 2021 elections. 

 

Time will tell if the current board’s collective vision of deep and lasting change in the area of equity at OPRF remains intact after Pruitt-Adams is gone, or if the introduction of new members creates a rift similar to the ideological schism that’s currently roiling Concordia University in River Forest. 

The tension at Concordia, the last major education story Wednesday Journal covered this year, is Biblical in a quite literal sense. Many non-Lutheran students and employees at the university are afraid that their educations and employment statuses could be jeopardized by the current administration’s commitment to draw the university closer to the values and mission of the governing Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. 

That’s a developing story for the upcoming year; it would relieve parents and students by being just a bit less dramatic. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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