OPUSD changes school motto to reflect philosophy

The Oak Park Unified School District Board of Education chose a new motto last week to reflect the district’s “moral imperatives,” the philosophies that guide the work of teachers and administrators.

The motto, “Educating Compassionate and Creative Global Citizens,” will replace “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders,” which was created 20 years ago.

Superintendent Tony Knight said he wanted to change the motto to embody the idea that education in Oak Park is more than just teaching leadership skills to students.

The current motto was too broad, he said, and didn’t necessarily fit the majority of students. Leadership is a great goal, but not every student can or will be a leader, he said, adding that many students will be part of a team and contribute to the goals of a company, cause, the community or their family.

“It’s also a little arrogant,” Knight said of the previous motto. “We should be looking beyond creating leaders. What kind of leaders are we going to be—people who care? There are all kinds of leaders out there that are horrible.”

Board president Barbara Laifman said the philosophy for the district is to create “thinkers,” but getting the word “thinkers” into a catchy motto didn’t quite work.

Newly appointed board member Denise Helfstein suggested “Learning Inspired” as a motto. It was a contender for a while, but the longer phrase, which included citizenship and compassion, won out.

In an email to the school community, Knight explained the new motto and included his thoughts about citizenship.

“We are citizens of our locality, of our state and of our nation,” he wrote. “We are also citizens of the world. When we look at the Earth from space we do not see borders and boundaries. We are part of a web of people who share this place. Being a good global citizen means participating in our own democracy; having a sense of social responsibility for the people around us, of our nation, and of the world; and caring for the environment we all share and will pass on to our posterity.”

At the board meeting, Knight talked about his recent stint on jury duty.

“I didn’t get called, but I recognized the importance of being there,” he said, adding that students need to embrace the idea that participation “without whining” is necessary to being a good citizen.

The board also focused on the need for students to be compassionate in all walks of live.

The new motto reflects the moral imperatives adopted by the district this year. In part, the imperatives promote acceptance, empathy, appreciation and respect for the differences between students. This philosophy is also promoted in the anti-bullying programs that are embedded at all Oak Park schools.

“When we talk about compassion, we understand the literal meaning of the word, which is co-suffering,” Knight said in the email to parents. “Compassionate people understand the plight and difficulties of others and work to alleviate suffering wherever it exists. We can demonstrate and practice compassion to others, to animals, to the environment.”

He said creativity “is the spark that makes life interesting. We all possess it, and it is important that a school system help students to discover it within themselves and nurture it. Creative people are interesting, solve problems, have open minds and see the world in new ways. Creativity is probably the most important 21st century skill.”

In October, the board called for input from the school community on the need for a new motto. Seventy-two people responded with suggestions.

One person suggested “Learning for Life, Caring to Create,” while another touched on the compassion theme with “Educating Students to Create a Better World.”

The ideas submitted over the past two months led to the approved motto last week. It will be included on all marketing material and stationery.

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