Learning environment pondered
District 200 board member Sharon Patchak-Layman and parent Jane Townley make a formal record of their group's discussion. | Rebecca Bibbs~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:18AM
OAK PARK — The chicks are running the roost.
At least, that’s the perception some people reported as a new five-year strategic plan for Oak Park-River Forest High School was being developed.
Those feelings surfaced in a series of focus groups and an online survey conducted in preparation for developing the plan.
That perception calls for changes in communications and developing consistent discipline policies that lead to a supportive learning environment, participants said.
“You want to try and connect with the students in a way that is elevating them and connecting them in society rather than connecting in a way that is ultimately going to destroy them,” said District 200 board member Sharon Patchak-Layman. She was joined in the discussion by parent Jane Townley; Tina Halliman, director of special education at the high school; and Chief Rick C. Tanksley of the Oak Park Police Department.
Creating a supportive learning environment is one of five themes members of the Oak Park River Forest High School Strategic Planning Committee are exploring as they build goals for the five-year plan. The other themes include equity; holistic education; transformational teaching, learning and leadership; and financial planning.
“If you want someone to be a contributor, if you want someone to be a responsible contributor to society, they need to know what they need to do in ninth grade to build toward that,” Patchak-Layman said.
But facilitators, stakeholders and members of the Strategic Planning Committee admit one barrier may be student mobility. For instance, students transferring from other school systems, especially Chicago Public Schools, haven’t had the benefit of learning things the Oak Park way.
“The transition kids can’t really concentrate on content. We have to teach them behavior,” said facilitator Pat Maunsell.
If the educational base isn’t solidified, unsupported students will find their reinforcement elsewhere, often in gangs, committee members asserted.
Townley said she believes part of the problem is a lack of a common sense of community.
“In a public school, you don’t really have anything that holds you together. In a religious school, you have the religion,” she said. “We’re at a disadvantage.”
The district also has inconsistent or inadequate policies for dealing with behavioral issues, some focus group and survey members reported. Some of the problems, faculty and support staff said, stem from inadequate communication and support from the administrators.
Townley said the issue of teacher burnout also needs to be addressed.
“What I also see is there are a lot of people who have been here 25 years, and they’re tired. They’re just going through the motions because they’re tired,” she said.
To explore the OPRF strategic planning process in-depth, visit www.oprfhs.org and click on the “Strategic Planning” panel on the left side of the page.
Next week’s topic: Facilities and Finance.