OPRF planning committee wrestles with holistic education
Consultant Pat Maunsell explains some of the findings of a recent survey of several focus groups. The Oak Park River Forest High School Strategic Planning Steering Committee met Monday night at the school. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
OAK PARK — Tabletop discussion during educational planning meetings earlier this month swirled around the need for better communication between Oak Park-River Forest High School and its feeder schools.
The concept, holistic community education, emerged as a key issue for the school’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee.
But Carollina Song, who represents Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School’s parent teacher organization on the committee, said she isn’t sure the concept is, or should be, limited to relationships with other educational institutions.
“A lot of things that can be labeled holistic community education can mean many things,” she said. “If you were to ask me, ‘partnership’ includes not just the other schools but other community entities.”
Holistic community education is one of five themes that emerged from the high school’s recent focus groups and online survey in preparation for the development of a five-year strategic plan. Other issues identified include educational equity; transformational teaching, learning and leadership; supportive learning environment; and facilities and finance.
The relationship between OPRF and the surrounding community should be one of give and take, Song said. She pointed out that individuals and organizations support the high school, and in return, the community receives well-educated, responsible citizens.
Though Song’s interpretation was more broad, much of the conversation among committee members stayed closer to the school district level.
The larger discussion emphasized the disparity in academic and social preparation at the elementary and middle school levels. The autonomy exercised by each school and district means students enter the high school with varying degrees of preparedness and values that may not be aligned with those of the high school.
Strategic planning facilitator Pat Maunsell said respondents also noted that education no longer needs to be about facts and rote learning but about behavioral remediation. It was discussed that this might be especially true for students who come from outside the high school’s feeder system or haven’t spent much time in Oak Park-River Forest schools.
“The transition kids can’t really concentrate on content,” she said. “We have to tech them behavior.”
According to the focus groups and surveys, educational equity is intertwined with other themes, including holistic community education. Though respondents reported they felt all students should have an equal chance at a quality education, many struggled with how that should happen.
Maunsell also reported that some respondents expressed concern that “high-status” groups have too much influence and get in the way of equity.
Five task forces will be assigned to delve deeper into each emerging theme over the next several months. The goal is to help develop action plans that will become the foundation of the strategic plan. The strategic plan is expected to be completed and approved by the School Board for implementation in the 2013-14 school year.
To follow the OPRF strategic planning process, visit www.oprfhs.org/Strategic-Planning.cfm#.UOxr0LbN7jW.