One Key to Closing the D200 Equity Gap: Raise the Bar, Defy Low Expectations

Expectations play a crucial role in performance.

Set a low bar, clear it...yet still fail in relation to the bigger picture.

Raise your sights, strain, struggle and stretch to come even close to them...and you can't help but succeed to a far greater degree, even if you don't hit that high mark.

Dr. Pruitt-Adams leads the Hatch session.

Those thoughts percolate tonight on the heels of yesterday afternoon's (Saturday, Feb. 4th) D200 community feedback session at Hatch Elementary School in the northeast corner of Oak Park.

Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams facilitated a second effective "Listening" experience (the first one was on Jan. 23rd). Throughout, expectations--of teachers, of students, of families, of school board members, of anyone and everyone who can play a role in being part of that "village raising a child" consistently invoked by Pruitt-Adams--were a perpetual undercurrent.

And the session was capped by a poignant story that Dr. Pruitt-Adams shared from her own academic experience. (More on that later, but let there be no doubt: she is the embodiment of a no-compromise mindset when it comes to great expectations.)

There was robust give-and-take on strengths & areas for improvement (“Opportunities”). It was so spirited, in fact, that Dr. Pruitt-Adams properly deferred at least one conversation to a one-on-one discussion that she engaged in immediately after the group discussion.

As would be expected, many of the same themes that had been raised at the first Listening session resurfaced on Saturday. One notable strength: Dr. Pruitt-Adams solicited a broad cross-section of input and was more effective than in the first session in ensuring that the broad input continued throughout the session.

Initially, she asked every individual for at least one piece of commentary. Later, she maintained order as so many of us (yes, me included) began raising hands and/or speaking out of turn--not out of rudeness but because of our enthusiasm and desire to contribute to the conversation. At one point, I was #6 in line to speak--it was sort of like being at a deli to order your sandwich, only in this case we were striving to give helpful food for thought.

Again, I provided written feedback and learned from the wisdom and experience of other residents—almost all of whom were parents of past or current OPRF High students.

For a literal "snapshot" of the input on strengths, look at a distillation of the remarks (below) that was recorded by Dr. Gwen Walker-Qualls, D200 Interim Director of Pupil Personnel Services.

One of the highlights of the session came at the end, when Dr. Pruitt-Adams talked about her own defiance of low expectations: her high school guidance counselor said that based on aptitude tests, she was cut out to be a file clerk. Instead, she was determined to become a teacher—a dream that she traces back to her early childhood.

“Ten years later,” she said. “My guidance counselor worked for me.”

Noting that the counselor remains a friend to this day, Pruitt-Adams remarked, “If I had allowed him to lead me in the direction of the aptitude tests, I would not be standing before you as the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest High School.”

It’s impossible to overstate the relevance and significance of her experience—it is especially invaluable in light of D200’s longstanding effort to spur on stronger academic performance among minority students. In particular, African-American students, and even more specifically African-American males, have achieved markedly less in the classroom than their white peers.

So attacking the equity, or opportunity, gap—formerly known as the “achievement gap”—is not merely a “head” issue with Dr. Pruitt-Adams. Rather, it’s a heartfelt passion borne of her own life’s journey and track record as an educational leader of inspiring greater success among all students.

Sitting to the side of the gathering was her husband, Charles Adams, who at the end of the nearly two-hour session shared edifying comments about his wife’s impact at her previous position as Superintendent of the School District of University City, near St. Louis.

Based on those remarks, as well as a one-on-one conversation I enjoyed with Mr. Adams, it’s abundantly clear that although this community outreach on the part of a superintendent may be new to Oak Parkers and River Foresters, Dr. Pruitt-Adams is no rookie at this kind of ongoing, intentional interaction with various stakeholders.

Because two of my three key campaign pillars are “Equity in Action” and “Authentic Engagement”—both of which are at the heart of the new superintendent’s approach to leadership—I am even more thrilled at the prospect of serving on the D200 Board starting this spring. Of course, that can happen only if enough registered voters in Oak Park and River Forest select me from among the nine candidates vying for four open seats on the seven-person board.

A few (of the many) ways to make that decision: give me a call (708-860-1380) and we can talk; attend a meet-and-greet (or even organize one!) in your home or some other appropriate space; and sift through the various sections of this website as well as my social media pages: on Facebook and on Twitter.

One last note: I encourage you to attend at least one of the upcoming Listening Tour sessions. After a gathering at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest on February 6th, here is the lineup (click here for more details, including links to RSVP) :

Wed., March 15, 2017
Irving Elementary School
1125 S. Cuyler Ave., Oak Park
6:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Sat., March 18, 2017
Roosevelt Middle School
7560 Oak Ave., River Forest
9:30 - 11:30 a.m.

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