Around the District

Around the District with Dr. Kelley

Fostering Unity and Belonging in District 97

As we begin a new school year, I want to thank all of you for the critical role you play in fostering a strong sense of unity not only in our schools, but in our community as a whole. It is that commitment to togetherness that makes District 97 and Oak Park so special. It is also what helps drive our district's vision to create a positive learning environment for all students that is equitable, inclusive and focused on the whole child.

The chaos and divisiveness we are experiencing here in our nation and around the world are affecting so many people we know and love. While we cannot control those outside influences, we can lessen their impact by being willing to engage in an honest dialogue about our preferred future, and what each of us can and must do to achieve it. This will require us to reflect upon not only our strengths and positive contributions, but also the ways we might be impeding the growth and progress of those around us. 

Though these conversations can be powerful forces for change, I encourage us all to be aware of how our words and deeds impact others. That is why the discussions we have about important topics such as equity and achievement must remain open and accessible to all. That is why we must always strive to honor and value people's feelings and perspectives regardless of the obstacles we encounter, challenges we face, or disagreements we may have along the way. That is why we must not only continue to embrace our differences, but also celebrate them and the significant roles they play in the success of our schools. That is why we must seek to recognize and respect the voice of each and every member of our community. That is why we must reflect upon our actions as we fight for what is right for our students. That is also why we must remain steadfast and united in our commitment to providing a learning environment that is safe, welcoming and nurturing for every child we serve.

Below are some of the ways we are promoting these important values within our schools. 

  • We are entering the third year of implementation of the Second Step social-emotional curriculum in all of our schools.
  • We added a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)/culture and climate coach at each of our middle schools last year.
  • We have provided opportunities for our school-level PBIS teams to learn Tier 1 restorative practices and create action plans for incorporating these practices into their work with students.
  • We connected our instructional coaches through a professional learning community that is focused on addressing issues related to equity in our schools.
  • We plan to continue strengthening our Tier 1 supports and PBIS system this year by developing a reliable data system that will be used to support data-based decision-making in our schools.
  • We began using Cargo Circle restorative practices in all of our fifth-grade classrooms last year, which helped promote community, acceptance and understanding among our students. Students who took part in the Cargo Circles reported that their sense of “belonging” grew as they learned more about themselves and their classmates.
  • We routinely honor student voice and incorporate it into the work we do on a daily basis. For example, we have conducted lunch and learn sessions with students from all of our schools during the past few years. During these sessions, the students provide us with valuable input on a variety of topics. This input was recently used to help revise our Effective Student Behavior Handbook.
  • We added four additional social worker positions and one additional psychologist to our team this year. Now, each middle school will have one social worker per grade level and one full-time psychologist for its building, while Longfellow, Holmes, Irving and Lincoln will each have 1.5 social workers on site to address the needs of students.
  • We worked with the National Equity Project to organize a training for our principals, Diversity Council members, instructional coaches, International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinators, teacher mentor and district administrators that was focused on designing and facilitating meetings for equity.

The district leaders and I have pledged to utilize opportunities and resources such as our Community Café series and Let’s Talk tool to deepen our efforts to listen in meaningful ways. Our social workers, teachers, principals and building leaders all stand ready to help each and every one of our students strengthen their sense of belonging here in our district. 

Lastly, as many of you have heard, the documentary America to Me (a 10-part series being broadcast on the STARZ cable network) will air on Sundays from August 26 through October 28. While OPRF High School is the main setting for the series, it addresses a number of important topics that touch the lives of people throughout Oak Park and in towns like ours across the country. I hope each of you will join me on this journey of discovery about our students and community. You can access more information about the series, including the dates and times for the high school’s viewing parties and discussions, by visiting

Thank you again for all that you do on behalf of our schools and students. 


Dr. Carol L. Kelley