Imagine OPRF plan advances equity

Opinion: Columns

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By Tim Brandhorst & Audrey Williams-Lee

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In an early episode of America to Me, the immensely talented English teacher, Jessica Stovall, leads her OPRF class through a brief role play: five students act out physical ailments, from headache to shark bite. Stovall, playing doctor, prescribes all five the exact same remedy. Her outraged class protests that aspirin might be fine for a headache, but won't stop bleeding. And that, she replies, is the difference between equality and equity: Equality provides the same for everyone, while equity provides each individual what they need in order to be successful.

Throughout the past year, the Imagine OPRF team looked through an equity lens at the entire facility. Does each space serve all students, we asked, and deliver to each child those things they need in order to succeed? We challenged each other to keep equity front and center while translating identified needs into actionable solutions.

The master plan Imagine presented the District 200 school board, Sept. 11, advances equity through dozens of specific improvements. Here are a few:

The Family and Consumer Science Department's culinary arts program prepares students for real-world jobs in commercial kitchens. OPRF and Triton's dual-credit program gives our students a head start toward the degree that will help land one of those jobs. Yet our current commercial kitchen space is nearly non-functioning. Imagine's master plan relocates this space, and creates a new hybrid commercial/domestic kitchen classroom — the most cost-effective, space-efficient option that will better prepare students for careers in culinary arts.

The science classrooms, located in the original part of the building, were designed for instruction as it occurred a century ago. Many are not fully accessible for students with mobility impairments, and do not allow for student-centered learning, which the curriculum requires. Many labs are both insufficiently ventilated and chaotically organized. Imagine's master plan calls for the complete renovation of the science labs, to bring them up to 21st-century standards, make them fully accessible, and provide that segment of students who may go on to college science study the best chance of success.

Over 600 OPRF students had IEPs last school year. One of the most vulnerable segments of students receiving special education services, those with profound disabilities, are served through the TEAM program. TEAM facilities are not near an accessible bathroom. A TEAM student who uses a wheelchair may miss an entire class period to travel with an aide to and from an adequate bathroom facility. The master plan relocates the TEAM space to adjoining rooms, makes the new space ADA accessible, places an ADA accessible bathroom within the TEAM space itself, and installs two new elevators that can be easily accessed by those using wheelchairs.

Sound production classes are among the fastest-growing in the school, and reach students at risk of dropping out of school to draw them back into the school community. The plan calls for expansion of sound production via flexible class space in order to meet program demand, without sacrificing future unplanned needs.

Perhaps Imagine's most transformative proposal is a new central student commons, a welcoming space for students which enhances OPRF's security. An overwhelming number of students — particularly students of color — voiced their preference to stay, study, collaborate and socialize rather than to be pushed out of the school at the end of the day.

These are just a few examples. There are many more improvements in Imagine's master plan. To learn more, visit, and attend Imagine's Community Conversation on Oct. 3.

Audrey Williams-Lee and Tim Brandhorst are members of the Imagine OPRF work group.

Reader Comments

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Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 19th, 2018 6:47 PM

If equity and academics is the main focus then we should simply fill in the pools and use that added space to reconfigure things. That's a lot of additional space. We can still offer swimming as an after school class for those that want to learn how and have the kids take a bus to a local area pool. Even if we pay $50k a year to use an outside pool it would still be a bargain.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 19th, 2018 6:14 PM

@ MN: One of my favorite movies is "The Getaway" with Steve Mcqueen. He plays the character, Carter "Doc" McCoy, who is in prison and gets released early by a guy on the prison release board who needs a bank robbed, McCoys speciality. After the robbery McCoy is counting the cash taken and there is 200K, Yet the radio station announced the money taken as 500K. It seems the guy on the prison board is involved in internal theft at the bank and needed the bank robbed to cover his internal theft of 300K. I am not saying that there is a crime involved here. However, what do you think is the real internal agenda is on this 3 year process that seems will never end?How many years has this been going on?

Michael Nevins  

Posted: September 19th, 2018 5:49 PM

And the most expensive part of their proposal is knock down the Field House and build an enormous pool......because of equity? Equality? I didn't catch that part in the above post. Am I missing something?

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: September 19th, 2018 2:32 PM

We need to wait until after the D200 Board elections before any decision to spend money on the Imagine plan is made. Each candidate will state whether they are for or against the plan. Let the voters decide if this plan goes forward.

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