OPRF HS, will the real villain please stand up?
Now, everyone knows great stories benefit from great villains, and it is no wonder OPRF HS Superintendent Greg Johnson has real trouble finding one in a recently co-authored chapter in the book Strengthening Anti-Racist Educational Leaders (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021).
While OPRF students were isolated outside the school building last year and contractors were working together inside, Superintendent Greg Johnson was co-authoring a book chapter titled Anti-racist Leadership in Precarious Sociopolitical Contexts. The chapter describes this community as “tethered to whiteness and white racism” and claims it only pretends to value diversity.
We've seen this script before. Abhorrence of this nature is crucial for softening a virtuous heart. The soft heart is the target for his next point, that the social experiment called detracking is necessary to fix the problem. While the failure of detracking in Evanston haunts that community ten years later, it’s the villain Johnson names that flips this script from solemn to sardonic – The E3 Group.
"By the late fall of 2019 the opposition began to organize. A group had formed to challenge the detracking plan, calling themselves the E3 Group to highlight their commitment to "excellent equitable education"......"However, the district did not let the white racism from community stakeholders thwart their plans for structural changes that prioritize racial equity and justice for their students of color". (pgs 28-29)
Lets address detracking, and then talk about why Johnson could not name the real opponent to detracking.
Detracking is, taking detailed knowledge of social, cultural, economic and especially academic diversity among students, eliminating time tested and teacher approved ways of educating this diversity, and instead, pulling this diversity through the eye of one single curriculum hoping to… Yes, it’s the ‘hoping to’, the goal of detracking, where OPRF finds itself stuck lately.
The idea to detrack OPRF HS was introduced long before Johnson was called upon to implement. Back then, the goal was eliminating the racial predictability of achievement. The current administration stuck with detracking; however, has run away from that clear, important, and honorable goal as fast as the buckeyes disappeared from Aunt Edna’s Holiday cookie platter.
Today, the administration’s goal of detracking vacillates between ‘Access’, and higher AP class enrollment. You’ll no longer hear mention of the ‘achievement gap’, and flexibility in the goal was built-in when this BOE recently approved detracking WITHOUT metrics for student academic achievement. It’s all about the ‘opportunity’ these days, and Johnson took his in portraying The E3 Group as villain, because the administration had sought no other.
There would have been another, more threatening, villain than E3 had the D200 Board or administration cared enough about students to ask. Recall former Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt Adams at the September 2019 detracking launch party when she said - you are not going to like this and we are going to do it anyway. Her administration dodged the BOE request for three strategic alternatives to reducing the achievement gap, singularly pushed detracking, and more recently this administration has dodged any step that might explicitly measure community support for detracking. Imagine a community of ghastly villains?
Evidence of Johnson’s interest in avoiding a true measure of community support is clear in the co-authored chapter. He cites the use of a non-binding advisory referendum question as villainous, racist and a product of “white liberalism”, instead of a longstanding and useful tool for affirming community understanding and measuring support. The non-binding referendum question developed by contributors to E3 that wasn’t asked in 2020 was: “Shall Oak Park and River Forest High School eliminate separate, stand-alone freshman honors courses in English, history and science? A question only hindsight will answer now, and an opportunity squandered by this administration that might otherwise have helped build real trust.
Gone are the days of OPRF HS prioritizing students, education, and achievement. Gone are the days of being able to ask questions, challenge ideas without being called a racist by school leaders? It’s a move from selflessness to selfishness for this administration.
Left unquestioned, unchallenged, school leaders will continue to wield false power in order to serve special interests. In this case sacrificing an OPRF HS education at the feet of Union gods.