New OPRF Superintendent Greg Johnson and Principal/Assistant Superintendent Lynda Parker have been so impactful this year. They have spearheaded the freshman restructuring at OPRF, worked to ensure that students are able to learn safely and fully in-person, and been meaningfully engaged with both students and the larger Oak Park and River Forest community. I can’t speak much to the first two, but as a current senior at OPRF, I have a lot to say about the last bit.
Principal Parker has been such a bright light in the OPRF community since the beginning of the school year. She is enthusiastic about Huskie spirit and often stands at the top of the Student Commons staircase at the beginning of the day to welcome students as we go to our first period classes. She is a fantastic communicator, an effective problem-solver, and perhaps most importantly, she sees it as her responsibility to be the primary conduit between students and the administration. Though a very busy person, she makes sure to reserve time to make herself available during our lunch periods every week for students to talk about anything we want. I have taken advantage of this opportunity and gotten to know her. When I or another student brings up an issue with the school — anything from how hallway passes are managed to school cleanliness — she takes note, often writing an email to the relevant administrator on the spot to ask how the issue could best be addressed. And she makes an effort to get to know us all. She makes a point of learning and remembering the names of students she talks to, helping us feel less like she is someone who is in charge and more like she’s someone we can go to when we need to address something — someone we can feel comfortable talking with critically too, because she will keep that critique in mind and undoubtedly search for a solution.
It was Superintendent Johnson who pledged in his first statement as superintendent-designate to bring back the principal position after its responsibilities were split among the administrative team following the departure of Principal Rouse in 2019. Though this means that his role has officially been more involved in external relations with the community (compared to the principal’s role leading internal relations between the students, faculty, and administration), he has nonetheless been very responsive with students and members of the community alike. Nothing, I believe, has proven this better than his attendance at the early December community rally in opposition to the cancellation of school extracurriculars to curb the spread of COVID. He could have elected to stay out of the fray, releasing prepared statements from the safe (and much warmer) confines of the school building, isolated from the opposition — but instead he chose not only to attend the rally, but field questions from protesting students and parents for over 45 minutes.
The superintendent and principal may have similar ideologies and support similar policies as the prior D200 administration leadership team, but their methods of involving students and the community more directly have been a sincere and greatly appreciated shift. I look forward to seeing how they continue to remain engaged in the future, especially with the new Superintendent Student Advisory Council that will begin meeting in January with a diverse student representation from all grades and perspectives, giving us a new means of offering our thoughts on various issues directly to the administration.
I thank them for everything they have done over the past year and look forward to seeing what the coming year brings.
Tim Mellman is a senior at OPRF High School.