The Wednesday Journal sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Journal’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.
Name: Tim Brandhorst
Previous Public Service Experience: Director of Labor Relations, Chicago Public Schools; Director of Policy Development and Compliance, Chicago Public Schools; Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Chicago Law Department
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Youth coach for RFYS, OP AYSO, and RFPD; member, Imagine OPRF Working Group; member, OPRF Community Council, board member, Applause!; member, RF Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Advisory Group; member, River Forest Welcoming Village Resolution Steering Committee
Occupation: Literary Attorney
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Virginia; J.D., Loyola University Chicago School of Law
1. What do you believe should be the timeframe for deciding the scope and the financing for Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Project 2? Specifically, should the current board act to make these critical decisions prior to the April election, or should a newly constituted board have the responsibility for deciding on a project that members will eventually oversee?
There appears to be unanimity among the current seven Board members, and at least three of the four candidates agree: Project 2 should be approved. The current Board has been clear in its intention to resolve this issue during the current school year; approving Project 2 and settling on the appropriate funding strategy have been part of the Board’s Goals since September, and the Board and administration have moved steadily in that direction this entire school year. So whatever the outcome of the April election, it’s clear that the project will move forward.
There is increasingly widespread community consensus that Project 2 is a necessary solution to the longstanding risks and unacceptable conditions in OPRF’s physical education learning spaces. That consensus is due in large part to the tours OPRF has conducted over the past year; as hundreds of parents and community members have seen the current conditions, most agree that it’s long past time to solve these facilities problems.
The set of solutions in Project 2 were derived from the Imagine OPRF process–a community-led, transparent, needs-based process conducted in 2017-2018 to assess the entire campus and prioritize facilities needs, and a process worthy of the community’s trust.
2. If there is any debt component included in financing Project 2, should taxpayers have the opportunity to vote on this issue via a referendum?
I will support whichever funding strategy the current Board selects.
There are several questions I would suggest the current Board consider. First, what is the funding strategy that makes the least impact on property taxes? Second, what path results in the lowest possible total expense for Project 2? Third, what will the impact on the fund balance be, and will the Board’s funding strategy result in a right-sized, rational fund balance in the future? If the answers to these questions lead logically to a referendum, then we should go to referendum.
The overriding goal for the Board and the community is this: that in ten years, when we walk on Lake Street and look up at the new physical education facilities, we see the finished product as beautiful, functional, and a credit to the community–and not as something that divides us.
3. Are you in favor of returning sworn Oak Park and River Forest police officers to the OPRFHS campus? If so, what would be the best way of doing this?
I genuinely appreciate the overture of OPPD’s Chief Johnson, and her representation that sworn officers will act as “visitors in the building.” But, whether in the possession of a teacher, an administrator, or a sworn police officer, the risk of having a loaded weapon inside the high school is simply too great. And let’s be clear: that risk falls disproportionately on one group, young Black men. Except in the case of an emergency/active shooter situation, I am strongly opposed to the presence of weapons inside the high school. Therefore I would be opposed to sworn police officers patrolling the halls of OPRF.
4. How do you believe that the school district will know, and over what timeframe, that the restructuring of the Freshman Curriculum is working?
This is a potentially transformative initiative that cannot be allowed to fail. I support the goals: to maintain academic excellence, and to make sure that every student has true access to that excellence. It will be among the Board’s and administration’s highest priorities in the coming years. I would be committed to demanding as much data as possible; to sharing that data with the community as transparently as possible; with providing necessary supports, as well as supporting shifts in strategy dictated by the data; and to evaluating the initiative with candor and integrity. I am committed to ensuring this equity initiative is successful–which will surely require close, careful attention over the next four years (and more) and agile response to key indicators.
We should track closely all possible data, and try to identify every early lesson we can glean from the data as it appears throughout the school year. The administration would be well-served to publish the most important criteria we expect to use to evaluate progress–even those criteria for which we will not have actionable data until future years (such as AP test results from the current freshman class). This will help the entire community understand the incremental progress being made, as well as to continue to set expectations around the very long time horizon this initiative anticipates. For the short term, though, the job is to be alert to every possible story the early data tells us, and to consider whether additional or different supports or approaches are indicated.
5. What is your current assessment of OPRFHS’s shift from a more traditional punitive disciplinary approach to a more restorative approach? Do you believe that it is working?
I am a strong believer in restorative justice as a system of meaningful accountability, and as a way to sustain the school community and all within it.
I was pleased to learn that all current deans have been trained in restorative justice practices, and that restorative justice is now the default approach in student misconduct cases. Restorative justice, when properly implemented, leads to true accountability and outcomes that are more meaningful to the person who suffered harm, the harm-doer, and other affected stakeholders–and leads ultimately to a restoration of all to the school community.
So it’s great that we’ve shifted as much as we have to this approach. But we have a long way to go. We do not leverage the true power of restorative justice and restorative communication unless the entire school community understands and embraces the principles behind it. That we continue to have as many student-on-student fights as we do indicates that students do not perceive they have an alternative process for resolving disagreements. The vast majority of the faculty and staff have not received training, and do not use restorative principles. I would strongly support continued widespread training and adoption.