David Schrodt, a 55-year-old finance attorney who lives in River Forest, is all about big ideas and if he gets elected to the District 200 school board in April, he said he’ll focus on two in particular.
“I’m proposing that Oak Park and River Forest High School builds into its education paradigm two things,” Schrodt said. “One is the teaching of mindfulness and the second is something that is so new the language around it isn’t fully formed yet.
“At the college level, there’s a very rich academic area in what’s called New Media Studies or information studies or media literacy,” said Schrodt, who is running for elected office for the first time as one of six candidates vying for four open seats on the board.
“We should do some serious studying about this world our kids live in and teach them about the systems that are there,” he said.
Schrodt said he wants to catalyze a community conversation around how OPRF can be a leader in helping students understand and navigate the digital landscape where they spend so much of their time.
But integrating that emphasis on mindfulness and media literacy into the educational environment at OPRF will take the school board bringing in a new superintendent who intuitively understands the unique challenges and opportunities of the technologies that affect students’ lives, Schrodt said.
That person, he added, can’t be another middle-aged administrator who may check all of the boxes, but “don’t have any experience and are clueless about this mediated world these kids are living.”
Schrodt said he vigorously disagrees with the current board’s efforts to vote on D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams’ replacement before new board members are sworn in after the April elections.
Sitting board members, such as D200 board President Sara Dixon-Spivy, have said that thrusting the responsibility of hiring the next superintendent onto new board members would be unfair to the new officeholders, who aren’t nearly as familiar with the district’s ins and outs as current board members.
Sitting board members also want to make sure they select a candidate who will help implement their preferred policy agenda, top of which is making sure OPRF becomes more racially equitable.
A major priority of the current D200 board majority is ensuring that a planned freshman curriculum restructuring that is scheduled to start in the fall of 2022 gets a final vote of approval.
The goal of the restructuring is to “ensure that the majority of our freshman students experience one high-level, rigorous curriculum in English, history, science and world languages; we are also making curricular adjustments in math,” according to a joint statement by the D200 administration and Faculty Senate that was released in February 2020.
The restructuring will effectively put an end to the practice of dividing entering OPRF freshmen into separate college placement and honors curriculum tracks. Historically, Black and Brown students have disproportionately been placed in the less rigorous college placement track.
Schrodt said that if he’s elected, he’ll vote against the proposed curriculum change, but not, he insists, because he’s against racial equity or doesn’t acknowledge the high school’s fraught racial challenges.
“Based on the way it is now, I would vote against it, but not because I am against the principal on which it is based,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think that the curriculum changes will solve the underlying problem of delivering a single, rigorous curriculum to students across races, ethnicities and social classes.
“I’m a person who cares deeply about justice, but at the same time, I care about doing things right and I want to make sure that the school not only makes the right choices, but also implements them in the right way,” Schrodt said, arguing that the empirical studies on de-tracking that he’s seen don’t demonstrate that OPRF’s planned curriculum restructuring will be effective.
He said he also predicts a “backlash” that will happen if the district implements the district’s proposed curriculum changes. When asked to explain the nature of the backlash, including criticisms that it may be grounded in white resentment, Schrodt countered that the backlash he’s referencing is not the same as what has taken place at the national level.
“To the extent that the backlash is like what we see on the national stage and what plays out with all this Trump crap, do I agree with that? No,” he said. “But if it’s a backlash based on the reality that this program was not thought-out and properly planned, what do you say to that?”
Schrodt compared the proposed curriculum changes to his work on the executive committee of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, which he said was instrumental in the Pretrial Fairness Act, a bill that passed the Illinois House in January and that would effectively end cash bail.
“This act is really, really good,” Schrodt said. “It’s going to change the way our legal system works and will make it substantially aligned with the principals of justice. It was well thought out and took years to put together. I just don’t think that in this instance [with respect to curriculum changes at OPRF], all of the due diligence and the real hard work that needs to go into these things has been done.”