In decisive fashion last week the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School unanimously and with enthusiasm approved the end of academic tracking for the school’s next class of freshmen.

This action means that, by next fall, curriculum for English, history and world languages will join science as classes offering a single rigorous course for every student. Honors and AP classes will be folded into the single curriculum with the purpose of launching a new wave of freshmen students — yes, including students of color — into advanced courses in their next three years at the school.

Math courses will be the only notable exception and will remain on a tracking system.

While there are concerns among some in our community that this decision is somehow premature or needs more study or more input, our view is that the high school’s administration has moved steadily toward a necessary goal of bringing more students into advanced work while raising the bar for all students. This revision has been years in the making. It is the result of intense collaborative effort within the school and reflects the efforts of division chairs and faculty as well as top administrators. It was delayed once by a year for more scrutiny and planning time.

It is not a panacea. There is no panacea. We would be disappointed if the project isn’t tweaked in multiple ways before its expansion next fall and improved annually thereafter.

At this point the only failure for this district would have been inaction. Listening to critics is important, but slowing progress is unnecessary. 

Kebreab Henry, a District 200 board member, expressed at the board table a view that we fully endorse. He has heard the worries and the hopes of Oak Park and River Forest families about this major change. All valid, he said. What isn’t worthy of these equity-focused villages is the smokescreen puffed up that says the school’s “elite, high-performing students will suffer academically because we’re trying to help a certain group of students.”

That’s thinly coded racism at work and it is unacceptable. Elite, high-performing white students will be just fine. They always are. The system, to date, was built for them. It is past time to at least tilt the system to the conscious benefit of other students, some of them white kids, who need a welcome and a hand and higher expectations set for them.

This initiative is a decided step toward that.

Final chance at Lake and Lathrop

It is described as the prime development site in River Forest. It has been described that way for a decade. And yet, the parcel at Lake and Lathrop remains undeveloped.

A frustrated, trending toward angry, River Forest Village Board last week provided the developer an additional 90-day extension before it has to have a shovel in the ground. It is just the latest in an innumerable string of extensions given to Lake Lathrop Partners LLC and to the failed developer which preceded them. 

It is easy to make excuses. We’ve made them. We’ve reported them. The serious soil contamination of this site has made progress slow. Two real estate recessions have hampered financing. 

Now, though, the site has been scrubbed. Demolition is complete. The market for financing and selling units is good though not great. The project is right-sized, it is handsome, and the units are either priced and designed right for the market or they are not.

This has to be the final extension. If this developer cannot meet the multiple precise markers the village has set in this agreement, then they will have had their chance. It will, painfully but properly, be time to start over.

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