Public schools are for everyone
To the Editor:
I had a hard time deciding whether to move to Cleveland Heights in 1996. A combination of factors led me to make the move. The flashes of city life I saw on Coventry reminded me of my years in Chicago, and the occasional hillside brought back pleasant childhood memories. Also interesting were the city’s claims to diversity and its strategies for maintaining racial integration. Because I don’t have children and because I had most recently lived in a place with a viable urban school system, the public schools didn’t catch my attention at first.
After living here for a while I noticed how our public schools contribute to our collective everyday life. I lived near Coventry Village at first and the presence of Coventry School struck me as the key to it seeming like a complete city in its own right. The successful commercial district is in the middle of residential neighborhoods that are remarkably diverse, both architecturally and demographically, and all these neighborhoods were represented in the student body of Coventry School.
After moving to the north end of Cleveland Heights I was disappointed to learn that the school board decided to close Coventry School, but by then I had formed positive impressions of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District for other reasons. My neighbors in the north end talked about the schools in a positive way, making Cleveland Heights seem like a place they had aspired to live. I was also impressed that many of my co-workers and other city residents I knew—people with options—were confident about sending their kids to the public schools. They were both confident in the schools and committed to them.
At the same time, I had heard people write off the schools, as if the demise of the system was inevitable, and I heard others suggest the schools didn’t matter. They’d point out that only a small percentage of city households had kids in the schools, implying that once the schools were no longer viable we would be able to just go on without them. I mulled these declarations and eventually concluded that a viable community without viable public schools is impossible to achieve in an equitable manner.
A lot has changed about Cleveland Heights since I moved here. We have problems now that we only worried about having a decade ago, but we are not without strengths. I love that Cleveland Heights has always been intertwined with Cleveland itself and that it has been able to set standards for Greater Cleveland, whether by showing that urban vitality was still possible in our region or by showing that successful urban school systems were a reachable goal. I worry now that some of these assets, especially our schools, will slip through our hands if we don’t attend to them carefully.
I look forward to Susie Kaeser’s monthly columns in the Observer, where she has laid out the case for public schools as keys to the commonwealth, and I recently heard one of our city council candidates state that Cleveland Heights High School should be our most important public building. I agree. Imagine what it would say about us if the high school were returned to its original architectural grandeur and its interior upgraded to standards that could match those of the exclusive school districts. For me, it would say that the cities served by our school district are places of opportunity. It would say that we care about kids—and not just our own kids—getting a fair chance.
People are much less likely to consider our schools—and, by extension, the cities they serve—if the schools appear rundown or lacking for resources, and physical upgrades to the district’s buildings will improve their viability as places where learning can take place.
I don’t look forward to paying more in real estate taxes, but think our schools are a worthwhile and essential investment. Schools that appear well cared for are indicators of a community that is well cared for. I plan to support the bond issue on this November’s ballot and hope that you will too.
[Reddy, a member of the FutureHeights Board of Directors, speaks for himself in this letter; not on behalf of any organization.]