Letter to the Editor: I have followed with interest the recent back and forth regarding Dr. Chala Holland, who is apparently a candidate for the principal’s position at Lake Forest High School. Both Dr. Holland’s lack of previous experience as a principal and her views on the impact of standard educational practices on racial minorities have been cited as concerns. Do we really have something to worry about here?
Dr. Holland does lack previous experience as a principal. She is young (36), but has been a teacher, an assistant principal at Oak Park River Forest HS and summer school principal at Evanston Township HS, both high-performing multi-racial high schools.
The District 115 Board will consider and interview Dr. Holland (along with other candidates) and decide whether she is ready for the principal position. Not all new principals have been principals before. And some older experienced principals do not bring fresh energy to a new job. Hiring an ambitious, qualified younger professional should not be dismissed out of hand. The principal of LFHS does not operate in a vacuum or without support. The principal reports to and receives support from the superintendent and his administrative team and, in the school, works with a team of deans and the strong-minded faculty.
There also is some anxiety that Dr. Holland’s views on academic tracking and systemic racism will lead her to …what? Discriminate against white students? Eliminate academic tracking? Make life more comfortable for the few racial minorities that attend LFHS? Do we really think that the principal of Lake Forest High School has all this power? District 115 is governed by the duly elected school board to which the superintendent and principal report. The superintendent and principal are hired by the board to oversee the implementation of the board’s guidance to educate the students in the school. Dr. Holland’s educational philosophy would have sway but hers would not be the only voice.
It is easy in a community that is 90+% white and lacks real economic diversity to forget that the world that we send our children into rarely resembles Lake Forest. Bringing a qualified individual with a different experience of the world into contact with the LFHS faculty, with our children, and with the community should not threaten us. Let’s allow the search and hiring process to take its course.
Beth Coughlin, Lake Bluff
This addendum is from my daughter, Elise Wang, LFHS Class of 2002, who is currently a graduate student at Princeton and has another perspective:
As a graduate of LFHS, I struggle to see why “racial equity” should not be of concern to LFHS. Is this because we believe that issues of race and discrimination only concern people of non-white races? Certainly, people of color feel the brunt of the disadvantages, but does that also mean that it is only their problem? I think that, if we believe this, we are ill-equipping white students for their future communities, even if those are only at colleges.
In the courses I have taught at Princeton University on medieval and renaissance history I have found that, even when we are discussing Tudor England, students who came from homogenous schools like Lake Forest are less well-equipped to think critically, write expressively, and produce good scholarship than those who attended more mixed schools, whatever their color. These students don’t necessarily have more AP courses, but they have more experience talking about difficult issues and about issues that make them uncomfortable. They are less fearful and more willing to take risks in their arguments – qualities that make them stand out in the high-powered Princeton pool and earn them better grades, better jobs, and more comfort in the long term. Students from homogenous schools that didn’t prepare them for potentially uncomfortable conversations about race, class, and equality very obviously struggle to make friends across races and therefore to participate well in classes that are inevitably mixed. They mistake their discomfort for a sign to withdraw, when more experienced students recognize it as an opportunity to learn.
Furthermore, that tracking disadvantages and unfairly burdens students of color is a fact, not a belief. Every comprehensive study of bias in tracking since the 1970s has shown this to be true (the National Education Association itself condemns tracking – see references). That this candidate believes this simply shows that she is conversant in modern educational practices. It is easy, when we are wary of change, to blow things out of proportion and play to our worst instincts. We should be wary of inflammatory language that seeks to rile up fear over what is simply a more modern, more worldly perspective than LFHS currently offers. Instead, I would rejoice that our children might be more likely to learn those skills that will prepare them to be good thinkers, good students, and good citizens in the wider world while they are still safe at home.