Sometimes we focus too much on the exit interview.

Where did things go awry? What miscommunications might have been avoided? What expectations were unclear?

This time let’s remember and review the first conversation between Dr. Ushma Shah, the new superintendent of Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools, and F. Amanda Tugade, education reporter for the Journal.

In that interview, Shah talked about the first course she ever took in education, taken on a whim at Knox College. Not a methods course but a course in the history of public education in America. What a relevant course that would be right now in an America so divided on whether public education is for purposes of closing or opening young minds.

Shah remembers her professor asking three questions, the second of which was, “What kind of a society do you think we should live in?” For Shah the answer was a society or a community seeking to “reflect our highest values.”

Now after time in the classroom and extended tours near the top in two of Illinois’ largest school districts — Chicago and Elgin — Shah takes on her first superintendency in Oak Park.

In her conversation with Tugade, Shah said something direct and clarifying. “Equity must be front and center or nothing else will change.”

It is a plain-spoken answer. No jargon.

And then she went on to explain how this conversation on equity, a conversation that leaves a good number of self-affirming Oak Park liberals baffled or squirming, might commence.

“We need to slow down and talk to each other and approach things with more curiosity and more commitment to our service to students.” Then she said, “All of us, self included, checking egos in that process.”

If Oak Park is to succeed in building an equitable community, it will need to figure out how to better talk about equity. What is equity? Why does it so threaten white people? How can we celebrate successes and failures in our innovation toward equity? Can we see the additive power of equity and leave behind the singular fear of loss?

In this moment, in this first conversation, we are hopeful that Ushma Shah can help us check our egos, focus on our children and embrace possibility.

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