Oak Park middle schools get mixed reviews in survey

At Brooks, 58% say overall climate is good

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Of the roughly 270 parents participating in a school climate survey on Oak Park's public middle schools, those with kids at Brooks Middle School think their overall climate is positive.

The survey was conducted by District 97's PTO Council. The results were released during a middle school public forum at Brooks, 325 S. Kenilworth, on March 6. Of the 273 parents from the two schools who took the online survey, the majority of respondents, 193, were parents from Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland. The remaining 80 were from Brooks. According to the survey's results, 58 percent of the Brooks parents said their school has been "very successful" at cultivating a positive overall school climate. Among Julian parents, it was 43 percent.

PTO Council co-President Libbey Paul presented the results at last Tuesday's forum. Concerning the disparity between the two schools in taking the survey, Paul said parents from each school were encouraged to participate. She noted that the results were a sampling of opinion from those families who participated and not representative of all parents.

The results also pointed out some difficulties those families have experienced. Ninety percent of parents reported that their child had heard profanity from peers. The results show that much of that language occurred "elsewhere in school" rather than in the classroom or on school buses. Much of that profanity is heard daily, according to survey results.

"We know that that does happen," said Paul, speaking to nearly 100 attendees at the forum. "There's a lot of unsupervised areas in the school, whether it's the locker rooms or the hallways. But that potentially forms the basis of kind of a hostile environment when you're hearing that kind of profanity on a daily basis."

For each school, roughly 60 percent of parents said their child witnessed "verbal harassment," such as teasing or racial/gender slurs. About 40 percent of Julian parents and 30 percent of Brooks students said their child was the target of such harassment.

"We do a pretty good job, according to our parent respondents, at setting clear expectations and providing extracurricular activities and positive engagement for the children," Paul said. "We don't do as well in the area of rewarding good behavior, and we continually don't do very well in dealing with the unwanted behavior."

Tuesday's forum included a panel featuring D97 staff. John Williams, Oak Park Township youth services director and Felicia Starks-Turner, D97's curriculum coordinator for administrative services, who said that while some of the results were difficult to hear, the district is working to address those concerns. She noted the "respect code" that's up in every school that highlights expected good behavior by kids. The code was among Supt. Albert Roberts' first initiatives implemented in the district.

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