Leader sets high bar for board of education
I met Ron Register in 1994, the year he and his family moved to Cleveland Heights from Memphis. We were both involved parents at Boulevard Elementary School. I remember making plaster of Paris zoo animals with his delightful young daughters and feeling happy to meet the parents who went with them.
Register and I clicked. Perhaps it was our shared background as urban anthropologists, or our appreciation of the advantages of integrated education, or gratitude for our district’s rich range of resources to help meet the needs of diverse students. We both believed that parents and communities have a lot to contribute to making schools great places for kids.
Our most successful early project was helping generate funds to redevelop the dilapidated playground at Boulevard Elementary School, a project led by Marva Register, Crandall Miller and Jeri Ann Waltrip. Register used his connections to two Boulevard alumni to garner nearly $200,000 in private funds to make the Boulevard dream a reality and then navigated the school district bureaucracy to put the funds to work.
In 2001 Register decided to take his commitment a step further and ran for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District’s Board of Education. He won and subsequently was re-elected three more times! He served as president five times and vice president six times. At the end of December he will have completed 16 years of attending bi-weekly board meetings, studying education issues and budgets and state laws, meeting the community at events and over coffee and on the phone, attentively listening to aggrieved or enthusiastic citizens, and patiently building relationships with superintendents and fellow board members.
Board member Register demonstrated the essentials of good leadership: showing up everywhere, not professing to have all the answers, becoming informed, listening, building consensus, exhibiting care and patience, knowing the limits of one's role and committing to the long haul.
Register always prioritized our children and made budget decisions to guard access to extracurricular activities and other ways to engage students. He focused on making sure career and technical education became a high-quality offering. He was instrumental in getting the community to fund facilities through a permanent improvement levy, and there were all those other levies where he hit the bricks to convince the community to invest. Kal Zucker, who served with Register for 12 years, observed, “Ron has the rare ability to focus on serving the needs of our students while deftly learning, digesting and integrating the needs of the community.”
In recent years Register mobilized the board to challenge Ohio’s education laws, which prioritize testing, judgment and privatization over investment and problem solving. The common good is under attack, and Register used his influence to challenge state legislators to do right by the public schools. He pushed the board of education to publicly oppose state policy, mobilized other elected school leaders to do the same and worked through the Ohio School Boards Association to protect public education.
I feel privileged to have worked with this leader who listened and often concluded that “We can figure it out.” I hope future leaders will continue his approach, which entails listening, learning and leading. Thank you, Ron, for your consistent and authentic investment in our children, community and school district!
In our democracy, education is a public good because all of us benefit from an educated citizenry. We have an amazing system of public schools that are free and open to all, funded by taxpayers and governed by citizens who are elected locally as guardians of the common good.
This fall voters in the CH-UH school district will elect three of our fellow citizens to fill vacancies on the five-member board of education. This is an important moment for the community to have a say in guiding its schools and demonstrating its ownership of an institution that is designed to serve all of us—regardless of whether we have children who attend public school.
Now it is our job as community members to examine our expectations and aspirations for our public schools and our young people, and select three newcomers to the board—the newcomers who we think will be best able to guide our district toward its goals. All five candidates have children in our public schools, and three are graduates. All are truly invested.
We can honor Register’s 16-year investment by electing, supporting, pushing and communicating with a new generation of leaders who, with our help, can keep our district focused on meeting the needs of our students and demanding public policies that foster the common good through strong public schools.
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.