Yesterday was a rough day — I slept terribly, waking up over and over. I think it’s mostly stress — the semester is coming, like an onrushing train, and the long, long list of things I wanted to accomplish over the summer is still long. I will need to pause and recalibrate to settle down, I think; maybe I can work on that this weekend.
But as a result, I was a mess for most of yesterday — I was super-tired and snappish in my first meeting of the day (sorry, SLF folks), and I ended up cancelling my Serendib meeting because I knew I was just losing it.
I did have a good quick interview with a reporter from WTTW at 1:30, about Vegan Serendib — he’ll be featuring my kaliya curry (a Muslim dish of plantain, eggplant, and potato) recipe in a piece running fairly soon, so that was good. We have a follow-up interview next week, where we’ll have a more substantial conversation — this one was mostly to pick a recipe to feature, send it to him, along with some photos. Looking forward.
I tried to rest and hopefully nap for a while after that, but I am terrible at napping — I just could not. But I put on Return of the King — I’ve been re-watching LotR for comfort this week, and it’s been great for that, and rested on the couch for a few hours, which did help.
I managed to attend the SFWA summer business meeting; so glad to see what a positive direction SFWA’s been moving in the last several years, especially since I gather RWA is really struggling (imploding? sad.) I’m really hoping I can develop the SLF to be a good complement to SFWA, and together, we can take the field (and what the heck, humanity!) in exciting new directions, into the future.
Then it was time to get dressed and go to the OPRF school board meeting. It was a long meeting, but I wouldn’t have wanted to move any faster than we did; school starts Monday, and we had some big issues to go over:
– the new field partnership with the Park District, that I’m hopeful will lead to a much better situation for our track and field and baseball / softball athletes (I’m still not sure we should actually still have softball as a separate sport, but this is not a fight I have the energy to fight, so I’m letting it go) — we’re making good progress on this, and I’m very pleased
– review of the superintendent’s progress this past year; personally, I’m quite happy with Greg Johnson’s work as D200 superintendent in his first year in the job — he’s had to deal with a continuing pandemic (that we’d hoped would be winding down when he started, sigh), community conflict around the pandemic, a few serious incidences of violence, and more.
– I wouldn’t say Greg’s been perfect, but who is? He’s handled it all with grace under pressure, and a willingness to learn from his mistakes and do better going forward, with a commitment to data-driven research and decision-making that I really appreciate. If I could, I’d give him hazard pay, but honestly, I’d want to give the entire school staff and faculty hazard pay for the last 2.5 years, and that would break the budget, which we’re trying super-hard to hold to. But good job, Greg! Keep it up!
– good progress on the faculty senate contract negotiations — it’s not finalized, but we’re very close, and I’m hopeful we’ll end up with a compromise that makes no one happy, but also makes no one miserable, which is apparently what you want in this sort of situation.
– we’ve been trying very hard to keep operating costs within CPI, so we don’t have take more than the standard levy come tax time, especially given the recent two years of inflation that have hit the community hard; I think we’ll be able to manage it. It helped that our teachers were generally well paid before all this happened, so I don’t feel as bad asking them to mostly hold for a bit as I would otherwise.
– we’re starting the school year fully-staffed, which I think is indicative that we do treat our faculty reasonably well, given that Illinois (and the country) as a whole is experiencing massive teacher shortages, with a host of teachers leaving the profession entirely. Teaching high school’s a tough gig at the best of times, and decent pay (and respect from the community and administration) are key to making it manageable. We’re very lucky in Oak Park-River Forest to have an overall well-resourced community that supports its teachers, and although I still think it would be more equitable to decouple education from property taxes, for now, I’m working with what we have, and trying to make sure the students under my direct care have the best education possible.
– we discussed learning loss during the pandemic; the first year was certainly rough, with F grades skyrocketing, and hitting Black / Latinx students harder (unsurprising, given the additional pandemic pressures those communities faced). Attendance dropped precipitously that first year, and it’s hard to teach students if they’re not actually there. The second year, when we were back to in-person, attendance improved significantly, and grades did too; we also offer both in-school and summer credit recovery, and a lot of students were able to take advantage of that to rehabilitate prior F grades.
– interestingly, last year, we also saw particularly strong performance on AP tests (some of the best we’ve ever had, for some of the largest groups of students), so I’m hopeful that we’re all coming out of this, and that our students will be able to recover well from the interruptions to their studies. Crossing all the fingers and toes that the pandemic continues its slow progress towards endemic and that we don’t get another bad wave of…well, anything. We could all use a break.
– on that front, we also discussed COVID mitigations. For locals, there’s a long list of them in the board minutes if you’d like a detailed breakdown, but one note that I want to highlight is that we are not legally able to requiring masking at this point — if we did, and a student refused, we’d have no way to enforce it, as we can’t remove them from school for that. That’s a decision made at the state level. We are committed to keeping the environment supportive for those who continue to mask, and parents, please make sure your students understand that; some of our students have disabilities, some live with immunocompromised family members, and may choose to mask. Social pressure can be insidious, especially in that age group, so let’s all help keep each other safe. If your mom’s going through chemo, the last thing you need is a classmate giving you a hard time about you wearing a mask.
– I did ask for some more specifics on the air filtration systems, and the administration is getting that information for me; I’m committed to continuing to press this issue if it turns out to be needed. We did upgrade all our filters at the start of the pandemic, and they’re supposedly to ‘industry standards’ now, but I’d like a clearer sense of what that means, concretely.
– finally, we spent some time on safety & security. The school has a massively revised safety plan, with much more clarity, and has instituted a series of trainings for staff and faculty that should help ensure a smooth and consistent response to any incidents. Students will also be shown videos to help them understand what they can do to help create a safe learning environment for all.
– I understand that parents are concerned — my daughter is a sophomore there, and it is, of course, panic-inducing to think of our children being at any risk. But often people respond with a desire for more police in schools (which has strong adverse effects on our students of color, and is generally ineffective in school shooting situations) or metal detectors (also shown to be generally ineffective)
– our staff has been researching what actually works, and my own research into this finds that early intervention is the key component — getting to know our students, their home lives and work situations, seeing the warning signs early, so we can step in and get them the help they need before issues escalate. That’s what works, and that’s what we’re working on.
– in America as it is, I can’t guarantee there won’t be another gun incident, but I’m confident as both a board member and a parent that our school is taking the best steps possible to make the school safe for our kids.
Okay, that’s it for yesterday’s recap, and now I’m tired, but I did sleep well last night, so I think I’ll be okay today. My trainer is arriving in five minutes, so I better finish my tea and get ready to do some push-ups. Eep.
Photo: Me at board table; I wore my new birthday book earrings, because they seemed particularly apropos for school starting up again. I think this might be my first day of teaching outfit too.