Honest, painful talk at OPRF town hall

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

The room was cramped and people unable to grab a seat were standing along the wall. At least one man dared to sit on the ground before a seat became available. He opted, instead, to give it up for a lady who was standing.

It was, at first, an odd scene Thursday night at Oak Park Village Hall, with more than two dozen people cramped in a meeting room for a community town hall concerning Oak Park and River Forest High School. Other people were standing outside in the hall, some squeezing themselves inside where they could. 

The forum was organized by parent group APPLE. Their fliers highlighted the topic of No Child Left Behind and OPRF students’ troubles in passing state standardized tests. The original venue was the main, and much larger, Council Chambers at Village Hall, 123 Madison Street. But for reasons not made entirely clear that evening, the town hall had to be relocated at the last minute. The small meeting room was the only alternative available.

NCLB, however—and its required “Adequately Yearly Progress” designation for school’s whose students do well on standardized test—would not be the focus of this particular town hall. Issues involving race, racial equity, and the achievement gap took center stage. Parents’ and students’ experiences, often painful, would dominate.

OPRF administrators were there, and they mostly listened. These were stories they’ve heard before, all acknowledged. Racial equity issues at OPRF are nothing new, many of the attendees noted. But for those parents who spoke—and not all were African American or a minority—they stressed that the problems weren’t entirely racial or even “black vs. white.”

For more than two hours, audience members shared their experiences in Oak Park schools, at OPRF but also elementary school District 97. One parent, a father, said he sent OPRF “a scholar” from the middle schools, but his son ended up “with nothing” after struggling at the high school. The problem, he said—and also echoed by other parents—was that there was little to no help for his child and those students and parents “in the middle.”

It’s a reputation high school administrators have acknowledged, and it was mentioned directly, again, at Thursday’s town hall—that OPRF, for many families, is two schools, one for “highly-motivated students,” and the other for everyone else. Students in the middle, academically, and those struggling at the bottom, aren’t getting the help they desperately need, the parents argued. But for highly-motivated kids, and their parents who know how to navigate the system, there is support, they said.

One student who spoke, a sophomore, talked about how her classes are divided into “the good side and the bad side.” The student, who confessed to needing help in her classes and asking repeatedly for it from teachers and counselors said she was ignored. She wanted to meet with her teacher before school starts, she recalled, but the teacher, she says, never made time for her. She sent emails but was told by the teacher that they weren’t received.

The town hall audience listened, murmured, nodded, shook their heads.

Thursday’s town hall covered a painful territory that the high school has continued to traverse. Supt. Steven Isoye spoke last, talking about some of the things the school is doing to improve, such as pursuing a long-term strategic plan, but did not address specific issues the parents raised. He did say that the stories, while difficult to hear and share, were not representative of all families and all staff in the building.

Parents at the town hall agreed.  

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Reader Comments

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Posted: October 27th, 2011 11:51 AM

Though this is a failure of OPRF, its also a failure of our educations system in the United States. We are still largely based on the industrial model of education - tracking students based on scores. What the world needs now is creative individuals. The worth of a High School diploma has diminished. This isn't because the world is more complex. Its because our education system has not reacted to the changes in the world. This goes for Colleges too. We need an Education Revolution.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 26th, 2011 2:29 AM

@Violet, Sometimes there is more than one child in a family...and so rather than having to hire a babysitter, one parent stays home with the sibling(s) while the other parent attends a school meeting. (Not that any of this is relevant to the news story, but, whatever)

oprf alum  

Posted: October 25th, 2011 7:10 PM

3) lack of targeted programs to address these issues. As an African American alum who is Ivy League educated I am unimpressed by the current state of OP education. We can and must do better - perhaps private /foundation is a way to address. Could focus on test prep, mentoring and targeted class work..

oprf alum -   

Posted: October 25th, 2011 7:03 PM

OPRF has diminished in terms of quality and performance. in the 80's OPRF was rated one of the top schools in the state and nation. There are three fundmental issues: a) lack of seamlessness between boards - why have two boards that don't work together to develop integrated approaches - simple logic b) lack of innovation - having spent time listening to the board it is obvious we have great administrators who lack innovation and get outside the box ideas

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 25th, 2011 4:59 PM

@Relief: I asked a question, which indicates that I am allowing space for an alternate explanation to be given. My parents both worked and they came to my student conferences at OPRF (at least until they split up, that is). It's a legitimate question and I don't apologize for asking it. My intention was to show that sometimes if there are family problems (Mom left the family and is a drug addict, which is not a complete longshot), it affects academic performance and motivation in general.


Posted: October 25th, 2011 12:28 PM

Violet, Violet, Violet.. "So it's stoopid to wonder if both parents are in the home and involved in their child's life?" No, it's not stupid to wonder. It is, however, off base that you expect that by saying: "The parent was a father; how come the mother didn't come to the meeting also?" that other readers know you're asking about a two parent home. I come from a two parent home and don't recall ONE school meeting where both my parents were there, often for reasons like WORK. Simple. See?


Posted: October 25th, 2011 9:15 AM

one simple way to reduce a massive amount of waste and to address these NCLB issues would be to not have three school districts in Oak Park and River Forest

JC from Oak Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2011 8:09 AM

Let's take the $700k a year we spend on Chicago non-resident students and use that to help all underachievers (not just black). However, sinstitutitons can't fix all social and personal problems, and in many cases it not only is impossible to do so, it is counterproductive to waste resources in that way.

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 24th, 2011 5:18 PM

@Hey Violet: I was thinking along those lines. I would be very interested in knowing what the boy's assessment tests showed. It is possible to be a decent student (or even an inflated title like 'honor student') and not really be all that. Did the boy have any honors classes at OPRF? I was in honors English my freshman year, a higher level for math (not the highest, but amazing given my dismal grades in junior high).

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 24th, 2011 5:12 PM

@Relief: Glad you found someone to save your synapses. Wow, just wow...So it's stoopid to wonder if both parents are in the home and involved in their child's life? When I was started my sophomore year at OPRF, my father left the home on the same exact day. My parents did not have a healthy marriage in the least but I have no doubt that my parent's separation and subsequent divorce the following summer had a definite impact upon my life. My grades were already suffering but really went down then

Hey Violet  

Posted: October 23rd, 2011 11:02 PM

"...members shared their experiences in Oak Park schools, at OPRF but also elementary school District 97. One parent, a father, said he sent OPRF "a scholar" from the middle schools"..... It APPEARS the son was from D97. Maybe D97 scholars make mediocre OPRF students as well.


Posted: October 23rd, 2011 10:59 PM

@ Michael Nevins: Your comments were among the most realistic yet honest comments I have read on here. Please post more regularly and I'll stop losing functional intelligence from reading reader comments i.e. Violet wondering how come the kid's mother didn't come to the meeting also.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: October 23rd, 2011 7:43 PM

The teen years are tough! Period. I am an OPRF grad and floundered when I was there. Why? Because I was a teen and didn't really care. My parents? Loving and great, but of the generation of "it's the teachers job," and since they were also OPRF grads...? Next up? My kids - 20,17. I tried to combine the "loving and great" of my parents with the "expectations, guidance, etc." that I didn't receive. Recipe for success? A little, but, well, "the teen years are tough!" BTW, I give the school an A-/B

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 23rd, 2011 6:14 PM

*cont. doesn't provide such students success. Um...isn't that true of LIFE in general? And how can you light a fire under a student who is indifferent? I have always been an intellectual person, which means I love learning for the sake of it. But I have also been a lousy student at times because of lack of motivation for what I was required to learn and do. When I was in high school I had a wonderful dean but I was too rebellious to listen to her and help myself succeed. God bless that woman!

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 23rd, 2011 6:11 PM

*Cont. I now realize that I showed all the signs of ADD. One huge aspect is having difficulty with organization and time management. High school is a time when homework (including studying) becomes the bulk of grading. You can be a bright kid and do well in the class but have difficulty completing assignments and studying for exams. This father says his son "got nothing." What exactly does that mean? A diploma is something. And he laments that if a student isn't 'highly-motivated' then OPRF *con

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 23rd, 2011 6:07 PM

So a parent says that his son (a supposed scholar in middle school)struggled at OPRF and "ended up with nothing." Lots of questions here. The parent was a father; how come the mother didn't come to the meeting also? Also, there is something missing from his story: how can a student go from scholar to academic failure? If his son came from another school system (like CPS, for instance) then perhaps their scholars are mediocre OPRF students at best. My grades stared to nosedive when I entered OPRF


Posted: October 23rd, 2011 3:07 AM

"He did say that the stories, while difficult to hear and share, were not representative of all families and all staff in the building." This seems to be the line we hear from many in school administration, and not just d200. I wonder if the admins at the top are somehow sheltered, or if this is just politics as usual.

community member from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2011 11:45 AM

Actually, the OPRF is not doing a good job any students; many academically gifted students either don't grow or struggle with the teacher-led practice that many OPRF teachers use. I know of many students who have entered with excellent explore scores and failed, and then went on to score 4 or 5's on AP tests. This is the ugly secret that the school is hiding under the narrative of "we do well with our honors students." They don't.

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