AFT president visits CH-UH schools
It is not everyday that I get a chance to host the president of a 1.7 million-member organization who is interested in our schools and our community. On Sept. 6, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the teachers’ union affiliate of the AFL-CIO, spent the day in the CH-UH school district.
We started our visit at Boulevard Elementary School. There were nine adults walking around the building trying not to be disruptive. Keep in mind that Boulevard is an open building: you can see over cabinets into classrooms, and there are no doors or walls.
One of the featured highlights of Weingarten’s visit is the union’s partnership with First Book, a nonprofit organization that provides books, school supplies and hygiene products to children.
Our first stop at Boulevard was Kristy Minillo’s fifth-grade classroom, to donate 50 books for her classroom library. The class seemed pretty busy and completely unfazed by the nine adults in their presence. We moved on to two other classrooms, where again, the students and teachers were completely engrossed in their lessons, and ignored the entourage descending upon them. There were high quality interactions going on and students were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
When we returned to Minillo’s room, Weingarten spoke to the students about reading and how important it is, and answered their questions. The fifth-graders were polite and appreciative of their newly enhanced classroom library.
We moved down to the primary part of the building, where things were a little different. When we entered Tina Reynold’s kindergarten class, the students were very curious about all the adults who had entered their classroom. Reynolds led them in a “good morning” greeting to the visitors. But because Principal Jenkins was with us, the students automatically ignored the other eight adults and added “Doctor J” to their salutation. Weingarten talked quietly with different groups of kindergartners, and ended by sitting on the floor to read books with a small group of students.
Amazing things are happening at Boulevard—teaching and learning with highly skilled teachers and bright and engaged students. Students are learning, but, as in almost any school, there are some who have some catching up to do. If a student does not master the material established by the state guidelines by some specific moment in time—i.e., when the mandated tests are given—the school, teacher and community get slammed with a low grade on the state report card.
Weingarten was frustrated by the dichotomy between what we witnessed in the school and its state rating, and how this disparagement must affect our whole community. If a student enters kindergarten and does not know his colors but learns much of what is expected of kindergartners by the end of the year, it is a minor miracle. Our teachers perform these types of wonders with students every day, but somehow these successes do not count on the state reporting.
Our visit to the high school was also amazing. School social workers were presented with a vast array of items from First Book for a care closet. Two of our impressive high school seniors guided Weingarten through the building to visit a few classes and talk with students and teachers. Again, the students and staff were gracious and accommodating. It was obvious that students enjoy being in this newly renovated space and that great education is taking place.
Weingarten ended her tour by asking her student guides to stay in touch, especially if they attend a college near her, in Washington, D.C.
By showing off our schools I realized how unfortunate it is that some families make choices about our schools without seeing firsthand what is really happening in them. For anyone with school-age children considering sending their children outside our CH-UH schools, I encourage them to arrange a visit by calling the school. The principal or another staff member will happily show them around. Families should find out what matters most to them and their families, instead of relying on public misperceptions.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, a math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.