D200 assistant superintendent Greg Johnson, stands for a photo on Friday, April 30, 2021, outside of Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill. Johnson will be taking over the roll as superintendent this summer. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

I’m going to miss Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams. Let’s start there. Whatever notable progress on equity and goodwill and common sense follows at Oak Park and River Forest, well, I’m going to give her the opening credit.

What’s the most important thing a leader accomplishes? Setting up the leader who follows for success. And while I’m not entirely sure how she pulled it off, I have reason to suspect that the national search for her replacement was rigged. I’ll put it more mildly. The superintendent’s job at OPRF was clearly Greg Johnson’s to lose.

And now we are into the Johnson era and based on the hires and promotions he is making, the man is ready to execute on the vision that he and Pruitt-Adams have led us toward.

I don’t pretend to know most of the women and men he has tapped for critical roles. But it is a diverse and equity-focused assemblage.

There are two hires who I know as a local editor and have long admired. Last week the district announced that Faith Cole would be making the switch to OPRF from District 97. Have to say this is a new one on me. Maybe I’m forgetting but plucking a top person from one district to another is not common. It’s like when Royko gave up on the Sun-Times and crossed over to the Trib.

Cole will become the high school’s director of student services. I can almost imagine what that job will entail. At D97 she had a top role with one of those un-decipherable titles the elementary district currently favors. She headed MTSS which, of course, stands for Multi-Tiered System of Support. English, please.

Previously, though, she was an assistant principal at Percy Julian and principal at Mann. That’s where I watched her in action one evening during a PTO meeting. I’d been intentionally invited by a PTO person as Oak Park’s whitest and wealthiest school talked about its own equity issues. Cole was so obviously caring about this school — she is a Mann graduate — and was stunningly candid and knowledgeable about the ways test scores were dividing by race as students moved through the grade levels at the school. She didn’t blame it on transfer students. She said she and everyone in the room needed to take their piece of the responsibility.

It was what Oak Park aspires to — straight talk about complicated issues that are uncomfortable to talk about. It’s hard work and she can do it.

The other Johnson hire that gave me a thrill was Patrick Hardy as the new director of equity and student success. He will be coming over from the principalship at Proviso East High School. He’s one of three new hires from the Proviso high schools — more on that in a minute.

I met Hardy in my role as publisher of the Forest Park Review. He invited me, and a few others, over for a tour of a school I had never been in. Shame on me. It was the public high school in a community where we published the local paper. Forest Park had so fully repudiated the school, going back to a perceived racial catastrophe back in 1968, that we essentially didn’t cover the district. Almost no Forest Park kids attended.

Not only was I impressed by the physical structure — aging and uninvested in but polished to its zenith. More so over those three generous hours, I was taken by this man’s spirit, by his personal and profound connections to everyone we met. He knew students by name, interest and challenge. He knew teachers and had a powerful connection. He called out custodial staff with praise and the little thing he’d just noticed that needed attention. His personal assistant would clearly walk on glass for him.

There is a purge underway at Proviso high schools led by a new superintendent who talks and never listens. He is pushing talent out the door. When a couple of months ago it became clear that Hardy would not be invited back to Proviso, I wanted to put in a recommendation for him at OPRF. But not my job. And not necessary as it turns out.

So these are two people I know. Outstanding. Passionate. Connecting.

It is going to be a notable year at OPRF.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...