When Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams announced last November her intention to retire from Oak Park and River Forest High School at the close of this school year, we offered praise for her strong leadership and expressed two genuine concerns about the school’s ability to stay the course on its long-planned efforts to make equity real in this school.

We have often touted the remarkable alignment of the current school board and the sitting school administration on the complex and potentially controversial topic of equity. This is not something we have ever seen at OPRF on such a critical issue.

So our first concern was the April school board election and whether, with multiple incumbents considering stepping away, the school board would lurch in a new direction. The decision by Tom Cofsky to run and win another term was welcome, as was the return of Fred Arkin to the school board. Adding Kebreab Henry and Mary Anne Mohanraj to the school board bodes well for a thoughtful but determined implementation of the existing equity plan.

The second worry was, obviously, who would replace Pruitt-Adams? The school board announced both a national search and its intention to rush that search so that the current board would appoint the next superintendent.

The announcement last week that the board has chosen Greg Johnson, the current assistant superintendent, to replace Pruitt-Adams was more than welcome.

Johnson has distinguished himself as Pruitt-Adams’ second in command over the past four years. We have watched the two work seamlessly and with a mutual admiration that has always appeared entirely genuine. 

In remarks after his promotion was announced, Pruitt-Adams said, “Greg Johnson is one of those people who was born to be an educator. I knew from his first interview that he was different — different in a way that he understood education and all that goes into it. It is his time. He is ready.”

Exceptionally high praise from an educator we have come to greatly admire. 

We have tilted and jabbed at this high school over the decades for its perpetually too-timid approach to race, class and equity. This is an institution that majored in sort of talking the talk but got an F in ever walking that talk. 

We dreaded the possibility that a new superintendent from outside the building would inevitably, even if she supported equity, slow the process, review the plan, kill the momentum toward implementing the fundamental changes that Pruitt-Adams and Johnson have teed up, have grown support for from faculty, staff, students and the community. 

We have all endured this dreadful year of COVID-19 with its full disruption of every aspect of life at OPRF. Things will not simply snap back to normal as the next school year starts. But we will be deliciously closer to normal by fall. And that will be the moment to begin to make real the changes this proud and stubborn institution is poised to undertake.

This could have been a catastrophe, a derailment. Instead it is an invigorating transition. And we are grateful.

Join the discussion on social media!