Oakton: What a Year,
What a School
This has been a sad, sobering and sensational year at Oakton School. As a community of students, teachers, administrators, and families, we’ve seen the darkest of times and moved through them toward brightness and hope.
Without question, the death of our fifth-grader Aquan Lewis was an unspeakably tragic and unbearable occurrence. Together, we cried and mourned his young life. Together, we tried to support his family in their darkest hours. And today, many still live with nagging questions about exactly how and why and what if.
Yet the professional, sophisticated and sensitive support provided by the administration and community to individuals, classes, teachers and families was superb. None had ever been in that exact crisis before, yet the timely, seamless response helped with the healing, and allowed us to move forward as a school community.
Shortly after, when we gathered for our annual For the Love of Oakton fundraiser, we were delighted by the outpouring from the whole Evanston community. Friends and families, neighbors and colleagues made their way into our building to witness the bounty of Oakton and a great enthusiasm to slowly and respectfully rebuild our diverse institution: the Afro-Centric Curriculum (ACC), Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program, and General Education classes.
All of our students have access to a wide-range of extra-curricular activities, such as before-school chess, tai chi, and yoga; and after-school intramurals, drum corps and choir.
We celebrated TV Tune Out Week for five consecutive evenings with Bingo in Spanish and English, make-your-own-books night with our devoted librarian and kick-ball with our principal.
Our Cinco de Mayo celebration was wonderfully attended, and all participating families shared cultural delicacie.
Our fine arts night boasted a building fully decorated with impressive student artwork. And our artist-in-residence program inspired every student with improvised movement, writing and performance.
Just when we thought we were nearing the end, our PTA surprised staff with an extreme- makeover of our teachers’ lounge, complete with new furniture, appliances and artwork.
This year, we designed our own Oakton School note cards, crafted from the magnificent self-portraits drawn by our fourth-graders and offered for sale throughout town. Our annual science night showcased some of the most innovative experiments ever. And last month’s Oakton Fun Fair, with pony rides, games and carnival booths, was the most successful in school history.
We recently planted our own edible garden, when, again, everyone came together to make what was already lovely even more beautiful. At Oakton the symbolic nature of planting as the year draws towards a close keeps us together and hopeful as a community.
We moved through the darkness, but look forward to new growth and a promise of a better tomorrow. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who have made this such a monumental year at Oakton School: our prized principal, caring custodians, tremendous teachers, successful students, fantastic families, and perpetually program-filled PTA. Alone, none of us could have so gracefully survived the hardships and transformed them into a banner year of support and success.
Together we made it through the darkest of times and all look eagerly forward to see how our garden will grow next year, and long into the future.
‘Litigious Parents’ or Litigious School District?
I am writing about the report on special services that was recently submitted to the District 65 School Board by Dr. Cassandra Cole. In her report, Dr. Cole said some parents would rather litigate than work with the District to solve problems. I believe this is a mischaracterization and unfair to the parents of special needs children in Evanston schools.
When my son, Willie, was in a special services classroom at Lincolnwood School, my husband and I attended many, many meetings with his classroom teacher, the social worker, the principal, a District psychologist, the speech therapist, the LD resource teacher and other professionals.
We became convinced that the classroom in Lincolnwood was not the appropriate placement for Willie and began asking that he be placed in a therapeutic setting. Staff members repeatedly tried to talk us out of this idea, saying, for example, that therapeutic placement was not the least restrictive environment and would not enable Willie to have daily contact with typically developing children.
Cognizant of these points, we continued to seek therapeutic placement because Willie was failing on all fronts: emotional, social and academic.
In many telephone conversations my husband spoke with cluster supervisor Dr. Marcy Canel, requesting the District to educate our son. At one point she said, “We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that.” He asked for, and she agreed to, yet another meeting with her and the staff at Lincolnwood. She added, “If you’re going to bring an attorney, please let us know, because we’d like to bring one too.”
My husband and I were extremely dismayed by that conversation, because we knew there was no alternative for us but to hire an attorney. Soon after, our attorney sent a letter to the District requesting due process.
But taking that step was something we neither welcomed nor entered into lightly. We are not litigious people; we did not want to undertake the time and expense of hiring an attorney. However, in our case, having an attorney represent us before the School District was our only hope of getting the help our son so desperately needed.
I do not know where Dr. Cole got the idea that parents would rather file lawsuits than work to solve problems with the District, but that is not at all the case among parents of children with special needs. Litigation is the last resort – a step that is expensive, time consuming and emotionally enervating.
It would have been so much more pleasant – and far less costly – for us to have gotten the help our son needed without going through an attorney, but, because services were withheld from him, we had no other recourse.
When our attorney met with the School District‘s attorney, the two reached a settlement in one hour and agreed that our son should be given therapeutic placement.
I ask you: Who was litigious – we, as parents, or the School District?
— Nancy Traver
Proposed Cat Limit
Ordinance Smells Fishy
Evanston‘s Human Services Committee recently approved an ordinance that would restrict the number of cats in any residence to four. The proposed ordinance is arbitrary and not narrowly tailored to address the stated problems of excessive smell wafting from a multi-cat residence and extreme cat hoarding.
Rather than imposing a broad, general restriction on the number of cats per residence, a well-designed ordinance would target situations where pet owners are not properly caring for their pets and are therefore creating a public nuisance.
This does not depend on some arbitrary number of pets (or type of pet), but rather, depends on how the pets are cared for and the type of residential property in issue.
If there must be a numerical limitation on the number of cats in a residence, it should depend on the square footage and property type of the residence. While four cats in a small apartment might be excessive and lead to odors perceptible to neighbors, six or eight cats in a larger, single-family house, if properly cared for, should not be any nuisance to neighbors.
The proposed ordinance is also discriminatory in that it does not impose limitations equally on other types of pet owners and odor-producers.
How about smelly pets of other species, or other non-pet-related nuisance odors? Further, if the ordinance does not contain a grandfather clause, the City is requiring residents who now have more than four cats to dispose of their cats.
This is unfair and should never occur absent verified complaints from neighbors regarding a particular situation. Finally, this ordinance would require people like me who foster litters of shelter kittens to cease performing this service.
There are many responsible cat owners and others in Evanston who will be distraught to hear of this proposed new restriction on pet ownership, and if you agree, I’d urge you to let the City Council know your opinion before it’s too late. — Joan Slavin