Rouse named new principal of OPRF High School

OPRF faculty wanted Vogel for principal

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The District 200 Board of Education last week approved the hiring of Nathaniel Rouse as the new principal at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Some within the faculty, however, would have preferred veteran administrator Don Vogel, who served this school year as interim principal.

Jim Hunter, president of the OPRF faculty union, in a statement he read to the school board last week, said Vogel had support among many in the faculty.

Rouse, 36, the outgoing assistant principal at Highland Park High School, was approved in a 6-0 vote last Thursday. Board President Jacques Conway was absent.

"Don has done a wonderful job in communicating with the faculty," said Hunter. "While the faculty is disappointed that Don was not the choice of the District Leadership Team, Don should know that the thoughtful leadership he has shown is much appreciated by the faculty."

Vogel was hired as interim principal in August 2007. He would not speculate on his level of support among the school's 237 faculty members.

"I think there were people who supported me, but I don't think it was a majority," said the 34-year OPRF administrator.

His role in the school is now up in the air, but he plans on returning to his job as director of the library and of technology, posts he held before becoming interim principal.

Vogel was set to retire in 2010 and was intent on leaving but reconsidered and applied for the permanent principal position. He cited positive feedback from parents and OPRF staff concerning the job as factors in making his decision.

"It was a disappointment," he said about being passed over, "but I have to believe it was a decision that was made in the best interest of students."

Rouse plans to address concerns

Rouse, who'll earn an annual salary of $140,000, was not surprised by Vogel's strong support among faculty.

"I understand the faculty's relationship with Don," he said in a phone interview last Friday. "That doesn't at all worry or concern me."

Rouse said that his first task would be talking with faculty and parents. Tensions between the high school and some parents have existed for some time. The discipline and achievement gaps between black and white students and how black students are treated at the school are at the center of much of the tension. Rouse wants to address those issues with parents and staff.

"The first thing I want to do is get into a room with those parents who have concerns. Sometimes those concerns may be based on a perception people have. Whether it's a perception or otherwise, we have to address that. There may be parents who are not familiar with what the school does. You have to sometimes make decisions that parents aren't comfortable with, but we want to make sure their voices are heard."

Concerning recent efforts by Dist. 200 to focus on black underachieving students, Rouse said he supports such efforts. Actions by the board this year, though, have resulted in some pushback by parents of high-achieving students.

Rouse pointed to No Child Left Behind which mandates that school districts identify student populations who aren't achieving.

"It we were forced to look at white students or Native American students, then those would be the groups we would identify. It just happens that when we talk about the achievement gap, it's showing a trend in special education and African-American students," he said. "Those numbers don't lie. We have to name those pockets of students and address them.

"Sometimes there is pushback when parents of high-achieving students think they're missing out," Rouse added. "As you address those students who are struggling, you want to make sure you're keeping high standards for all children, but I believe that when you address your lower-achieving students, that helps everyone."


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Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 7:15 PM

@ Drew you as well and I enjoy your comments (can you feel the love) and respect your background - the first time I met my father I was 21 years old. Everytime I tired to help in Oak PArk, I was turned away or treated poorly. This is why I can wait to leave ...

Drew Rein  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 7:07 PM

@Christopher Bell You make most insightful points. I am a state school and public university student/graduate and came from a single parent family from the south side so am happy to have beaten a lot of odds already. I regret that you have been passed over to serve as leadership in Oak Park. You have an invaluable perspective but am not altogether surprised.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 12:30 PM

The one gaping whole in the series is specifics on gap causes. Factors could include a) income b) grades/score data from 3rd grade forward, c) parental involvement d) teacher bias (can measure) e) family assets/ wealth f) amount of study g) etc. there are enough smart people and data to disaggregate cause and identify key variables - that is good /required starting point to move this forward.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 12:14 PM

Adrian - there is no question that kids of color are often challenged on multiple levels. My son who is applying Ivy (mom /dad Harvard, University of Chicago alum) talks essays discuss how kids in AP look at him oddly when he answers in class. This is despite his parents education, taking companies public - he is still seen as less than. There is bias no question - and racism - my point is kids with resources can address gaps, can ge the enrichment etc. IF we cut data, I will bet income is strongly correlated to grades (strong r squared). -

Adrian Rohrer  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 12:03 PM

Wednesday Journal had an article a few weeks ago that calls into question income inequality and parental involvement as the sole driving force for the achievement gap in OP. Mann presents little to no economic disparity between racial groups, yet a measurable achievement gap still exists there apparently. Without the raw numbers, it's hard to say if the gap is as prevalent as the rest of D97 and D200 face, but it's apparently there none the less. Given Mann's reputation, a gap at that school also can't been pinned easily on teacher competency. There's a lot of factors that go into it for sure, but it's not possible to just dismiss a racial bias element (whether conscious or not on the part of the staff and administration) based on the facts that are out there.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 12:00 PM

The narrative of the document served James well but was extremely narrow. For example, he featured Woven as failure but did you know he also interviewed teachers on programs for gap that are working - after school program Delpidio set up that was very effective - but yet, none of those were highlighted. Further, when you peel away the feelings, you see teachers that care - so the school teachers certainly don't appear racist. This documentary hurts two key pillars of Oak PArks value prop (there are 5 in my humble view). progressivism and high quality schools. With 3-4 of my friends house unable to sell, cant wonder if this (and 20K in porpoarty taxes) has secondary or tricary impact.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 11:47 AM

Closing the gap will require accountability from parents, teachers etc. that OP likely has little politically will to execute. IF kids arrive far behind at OPRF - 5 year program, if kids arrive behind require parents sign up for enrichment (free), fire /demote teachers in grammar / middle who are just passing them on, hold back kids - ALL of these wont happen - we are far too interested in talking about (and in some sense feeling better about our own situation).

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 11:45 AM

They need to redefine success into "steady improvement" year over year for the kids on the bottom of the gap. So it is an improvement issue, not a gap issue, because the gap conversation implies it is some weird sort of racial competition when it really is not. And they need to stop thinking about blowing money on an olympic pool and instead spend on academic progress and improvement.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 11:37 AM

Alice - The gap issue existed when I attended OPRF in 1980's (I am black) and as long as the income inequality and other issues exist, the gap will persist. IF students show up as freshman or have little family infrastructure, it is really hard for them to succeed. Further, blaming Rouse is unfair for several reasons - including organizational intertia. Having dealth with 97 trying to innovate around technology 10 years ago, I can tell you its like dealing with post office - too many turfs/ etc. That said, think there are ways to leverage data, early identification, etc to better address it.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 11:25 AM

Just saying 10 years ago his announced goal was to close the gap. If he can identify the problem is with K-8 then he needs to have the courage to call them out on it. If it's D97, then let's make changes there. How about holding kids and making them take summer school classes until they catch up? Measuring for desired results is not racism.

Drew Rein  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 11:14 AM

Successfully closing the "gap" is going to have to start in early childhood. There is only so much educators can accomplish when I student arrives at OPRF woefully behind and unprepared for high school. Parents have to be fully committed as much of a child's learning goes on in the home. I believe Principal Rouse is managing the school as best he can with plenty of roadblocks set in his path. Further, exploring the River Forest voices at the school is necessary to get a better scope of the obstructions. This is not to say that discrimination does not exist in the schools but it seems casting Principal Rouse as less effective may, in itself, be prejudiced. Certainly James was miffed that he did not want to participate in his en devour.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 10:37 AM

*close the gap.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 10:37 AM

10 years ago and the goal was to close. What has been the measurable progress? If none, why and should there be a search for new administration who can deliver results?

Drew Rein  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 7:00 AM

Vogel also sold his home and left Oak Park last year before the series aired which is exactly what he disparaged Dr. Isoye for supposedly doing. I think his appearing and sharing his views are a case of sour grapes at not being awarded the position. would also be interested in transparency as to whom Steve James's friends are that are appearing in this series. Lots of white geezers with long-winded opinions and assailing the black principal and asian administrator.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: October 22nd, 2018 8:47 PM

I was unaware that Mr. Vogel applied for and was passed over for the position that was awarded to Principal Rouse. I just finished watching "America to Me". If that point was made in the docu-series, I missed it. And, if it was made, it should have been repeated, rather than stated only once. Whenever I have time, I will watch the series again, and I think this new insight will make me view Mr. Vogel's statements in a different light. I thank you for reposting the WJ story.

Drew Rein  

Posted: October 22nd, 2018 7:09 PM

Dredging this article back up to the forefront so that when people view ATM they can decide if this was sour grapes on the part of the interim principal. I think yes, and do note that Vogel chose to "torch and run" Oak Park before the series ran. Classy.

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