D97's proposed equity policy won't come free

Administration calls for more hires, resources to implement ambitious goals

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 officials recently released a draft equity policy that the school board is scheduled to discuss this month. In addition to the draft policy, officials also released a Jan. 29 memo detailing the recommended resources that they think are critical to making sure the ambitious goals of the policy are actually achieved.

Although the document doesn't contain any cost estimates related to those resources — which could include 19 full-time staff members, a wide variety of professional development services, data monitoring tools and outside consultants — it's probably safe to assume that the implementation of the policy won't come cheap.

The draft equity policy, which was released last month, lays out the district's expansive vision of nurturing the potential "in each student" and ensuring that "each student has a high-quality education experience, and outcomes are not predicted by race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, national origin, foster status, involvement with the juvenile system, IEP [Individualized Education Program] status [which indicates special education], disability, learning difference, immigration status, or language."

The data, the draft policy reads, "Consistently reveals that race is the most persistent predictor of student performance in District 97. Black and brown students are much more likely to be disciplined than they are to be selected for participation in the district's gifted and talented program. The data also demonstrates that "learning differences, disabilities, IEP status, socioeconomic status" are also predictors of student performance.

The district pulls no punches in its self-evaluation.

"District 97 has made efforts to address the inequities in our District and thus far these efforts have been largely unsuccessful," the policy reads.

In order to correct its historical failing, the district vows to take action in nine areas, including stakeholder and community engagement, workforce equity, eliminating discipline disparities and professional development, among others. And each of those focus areas, district officials explained, will require extra staffing, professional development services and other resources.

For instance, the district states that it will eliminate discipline disparities through a variety of measures, such as training teachers and staff to deploy restorative justice practices, which emphasize conflict resolution over punishment.

"The goal is to keep our students in the classroom, ensure that they have equal access to instruction and ensure behavior management does not negatively impact how a student sees him or herself and how other students and people in the school community sees that student," officials said in the memo.

To achieve that goal, officials recommend bringing on a middle school culture and climate coach, six middle school safety and security monitors, and two elementary culture and climate coaches. The memo indicates that the coaches will make sure that restorative justice practices are being implemented uniformly across the district. Officials don't indicate whether these positions will be created by reshuffling the responsibilities of current staffers, hiring new ones or both.

 In addition to the nine full-time staffers, eliminating discipline disparities would also entail the district conducting annual training and ongoing professional support for teachers and staff members in areas such as restorative practices, suicide prevention and trauma-informed care.

The district would also provide extra resources to help eliminate disparities, such as space in schools for community-based mental health services and mentoring programs for families new to the district's middle schools. These resources could require the district to pay teachers and staff additional stipends to carry out their new functions.

In total, district officials recommended the development of 19 full-time-equivalent positions, more than a dozen professional learning opportunities for staff and teachers, and more than a dozen additional resources, such as the creation of a data warehouse, bringing on an external auditor to evaluate funding and staffing related to the equity policy, and the establishment of a D97 affinity group.

The policy would require Supt. Carol Kelley to "publicly report on progress toward District goals at least twice a year," and to present an updated equity action plan to the board each year.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

Reader Comments

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Gregg Kuenster from River Forest Trustee Candidate  

Posted: February 8th, 2019 10:09 PM

Oak Park 97 wants 20 "sensitivity" trainers to ease our adult collective race guilt and train our children. The Chicago Public Schools on the other hand hired 200 Chinese teachers in the last 10 years. English scores in Chicago have gone up nearly 2 full grades in that time in the schools with Chinese teachers. Yet 97 suggests FIRE the language teachers they make the children FEEL bad. The kids need mumbo jumbo about how to FEEL equal. I suggest children learn to act from their parents and adults. Hiring 20 sensitivity trainers is not going to make the adult parents act less racist or classist. No matter how I try ... I think less of beggars on up that have a lower position in life than I do. I consider myself Christian. I consider charity and forgiveness the greatest virtues. We all segregate. It is human nature. IMO 4 million dollars a year on Mumbo Jumbo sensitivity trainers will have a negative effect on overall scholastic achievement. Sensitivity Trainers are a BAD IDEA!

John Duffy  

Posted: February 8th, 2019 6:53 AM

The proposed D 97 Equity Policy is a major step forward not just because of its clear wide-ranging goals and methods for ensuring D97 achieves equity, but most importantly because it does so with the commitment to assuring full community voice, including racially diverse families and community members. To that end I must ask-- has the District already sidestepped that commitment by announcing this sweeping, unprecedented call for hiring 19 FTE's to implement their equity goals. What ongoing role have community voices, and teachers had in designing implementation? For sure, significant funding is necessary to implement equity. All stakeholders, including families of color in D 97, need to be at the center of plans and decisions for implementation, and the budgeting proposals that implementation will require.

James Pfluecke from Oak Park  

Posted: February 7th, 2019 9:57 AM

Hi Phil, I have not dug deep into the specifics of this policy proposal (I plan to soon), but professionally I consult with a lot of organizations and, in the past, schools, that use restorative justice--it is the same for everyone and is designed to help youth understand the harm they have done and work to address underlying behaviors and rectifying the harm done, with less of an emphasis on simply just disciplining young people and threatening them with more discipline. From my experience, awareness is not enough, a plan is needed to take the working knowledge of teacher and administrators and turn it into more equitable outcomes. By definition, Equity is not everyone getting the same, it is everyone getting what they need. So an Equity plan focuses on better meeting the needs of each child I see your point about the timeline on this. The school district is not working in a vacuum, they have modeled this on what has worked in other places and especially similar places like Evanston. Give me ring if you want, I am no expert but I do understand the approach that underlies this proposal.

Phillip Risley  

Posted: February 7th, 2019 12:04 AM

I totally agree each student should be treated respectfully and as fairly as possible. I'm sure our teachers are well trained and attend seminars and continuing education sessions, which provide tools to implement a fair and transparent process in serving all students. The ultimate question is what is "restorative justice?" Are all students treated equally without regard to race and/or socioeconomic circumstance? Once these proposed positions are instituted, do the Added staffers stay for 5 years, 10 years, forever? How is the progress measured? I'm confident the district is sensitive to the figures/data showing disparity in punishment numbers. I appreciate the district is looking in the mirror to see what approach is appropriate. I'd like to know how the district's punishment data compares to other districts. I wonder if this model has been adopted in other districts and what results they achieved. I suppose all I want is a school district that provides a quality education experience for all residents. I'm not convinced committing an additional 19 staffers furthers the cause. It would be helpful to know how, why and the expected results before I comment further.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2019 5:31 PM

We raised five kids here in Oak Park and we were always amazed by the amount of homework they brought home, from first grade through high school, especially when compared to sixties and seventies when we were children. I would think that a big part of the equity issues starts there. The schools cannot control what gets done from 4:00 PM until midnight at the homes of its students. Why not try to get more accomplished during the day when all students have the same exact environment in which to learn? Maybe band should be an afterschool subject as it was back when we were young? If people are serious about the "achievement GAP" then you need to really re-think what they are doing.

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2019 4:36 PM

Hello, referendum.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 11:02 PM

Let's say you are one of those 19 new full time staff members whose job is finding equity issues. Are you ever going to declare the problem solved? Because your job would end then, so equity issues better never end for you. Meanwhile salary that could have bought 19 teachers is wasted, forever. More teaching will help kids who need to learn.

Molly Sakellaris Clark  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 10:12 PM

This is precisely why I moved out of a town that I lived in for 46 years. The taxes are half of what I used to pay and the districts here are 200 times better. At this point the OP school districts are a joke. Instead of creating more nonsense positions, the district should increase teacher salaries. PS. What Jennifer said!!!

Bryan Rekarson from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 7:23 PM

"Restorative Justice Practices"? How is this not defined more specifically and eloquently in the article? Why are my tax dollars going towards this? 13% does not equal 50% of the money.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 6:11 PM

Jennifer - I agree with this! Why on earth why don't we ask the teachers what they think we need to support them in implementing this policy and give THEM the resources they need to fix this. I guaranty that it will be cheaper than higher 19 FTEs to "fix" this.

Michael O'Malley  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 4:45 PM

For crying out loud. How many millions and millions and millions of dollars is it going to take to maintain all the layers of bureaucracy for this fuzzy, ill-defined initiative? Who are these "district officials" who released the draft plan? "Climate and culture coaches", "restorative justice practices". This school district has run amok. This goes way beyond the scope of providing an education for the children.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 4:40 PM

Well said Jennifer!!!

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 3:55 PM

The district under-estimates it's greatest resource, the teachers. Perhaps if they supported and empowered these individuals instead of shifting the power and control, they would get the results the teachers are so so capable of.

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