With 47 new hires this school year Oak Park and River Forest High School is making incremental progress toward diversifying its staff. Employees of color account for approximately 62% of new hires this year. Thirty percent of the new hires are Black, 23 percent are Latino and 9 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander. Thirty-eight percent of new hires are white.
Among the 20 new teachers hired this year 10 are white, four are Latino, three are Black and three are Asian or Pacific Islander. Currently 27% of faculty members at OPRF are people of color compared to 25 percent last year. Twelve percent of teachers at OPRF are Black while nearly 73% of the OPRF faculty are white.
OPRF has more employees of color in other job categories. People of color make up 44 percent of administrative and management employees and a whopping 82 percent of campus safety workers.
OPRF hired three new administrators this year and they are all Black women. One is new dean Marquita Thompson.
For the 36-year-old Thompson it is a homecoming. She grew up in Oak Park and graduated from OPRF in 2004. Thompson says she is excited to be working at her alma mater.
“This is home,” Thompson told the Wednesday Journal in a telephone interview last week. “I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
After graduating from Northern Illinois University with a degree in English and a minor in Black Studies, Thompson worked for three years as a residential counselor and supervisor for Oak Park-based Hephzibah Children’s Association. She then worked for the Elgin U46 school district teaching English at Streamwood High School and at the district’s alternative school before becoming a dean at Larkin High School last year.
Thompson, who has two master’s degrees, found out in June that OPRF was looking for a new dean and she decided to apply. She almost missed her chance due to an email foul up but eventually connected with OPRF and came in for three rounds of interviews and was hired.
“I saw that they were hiring and just took a chance and applied,” Thompson said. “I almost missed the call because something was wrong with my email and it was going to an old AOL account that I had from when I was a child.”
She is still getting used to working at the high school she once attended.
“It’s still very strange for me but I come here very honored and humbled to be in this role,” Thompson said. “I know what an honor it is to be a part of this community.”
When she is walking down the halls and sees a teacher that she remembers from her days as a student Thompson has to remind herself that she that she is a peer rather than a student.
“When I’m walking down the hallways a lot of the time I still feel like a student and so when I see a teacher who I had I have to remind remember that I work here and I don’t go here anymore,” Thompson said.
There are a number of teachers at OPRF who were teachers when Thompson was a student. One is her former English teacher, Michael Dorame, who Thompson credits for inspiring her to become an English teacher. He was a passionate and engaging teacher. And he is mixed race, half Black and half Mexican.
“He was one of the first teachers of color that I had and so it was just good to have someone who looked like me that I could look up to,” Thompson said.
Thompson says when she was a student at OPRF she wasn’t always as engaged with the school as she might have been and felt like there were things about the college admissions process and financial aid that she didn’t know about.
“I’m looking to establish a lot of the connections that I missed out on the first time around and make sure my students are aware of the resources that we have here so that they feel connected as well so they get the support that they need to set themselves up for success in the future,” Thompson said.
Thompson has noticed there are more teachers of color at OPRF now than there were when she was a student at OPRF 20 years ago.
“I see a lot more teachers of color and even male teachers than I did when I was here,” Thompson said.
She says that OPRF is now much more intentional in how it deals with matters of race and equity.
“It is such an honor to be here and to be part of the work that the district is doing with just racial equity,” Thompson said. “I think the teachers and staff here are being way more intentional in the work that they are doing.”
Thompson now lives in Hoffman Estates but would like to move back to Oak Park.
“I’m hoping to move back to Oak Park because I would like my children to have the same, but a better experience than I had,” Thompson said.