CH-UH schools: always innovating
In 1988, I was hired by Principal Pat Ackerman to teach math at Taylor Academy, an alternative high school that CH-UH had opened the previous year. Taylor was “ a small school,” serving students who were not quite ready for the high school, or ninth-graders who were lagging behind.
There were 13 staff members, who worked to advance students academically, and help with their social-emotional issues. Taylor provided a close-knit, intimate environment where we knew one another. It was an experimental school that I believe helped many students who would have been lost in the large high school. Taylor Academy continued for several years, until Small Schools, another experiment, emerged as the new model.
Throughout its history, CH-UH has established innovative programs similar to Taylor. When I was a student at Heights, we had New School, a program that enabled a small group of students and teachers to learn together in creative ways. This was the original Community of Learners. Then came COL III, and School Within a School, to mention just a couple. Even now, CH-UH has Options, which is a smaller high school environment where students can work through their requirements off-site at their own pace with teachers supporting their efforts.
Some current educational pundits would have us believe that creativity in reaching students is reserved for charter schools, where the law frees the administration from restrictions that bind traditional public schools. Many charter schools can avoid transparency and accountability with regard to funding or governance.
Many charters advertise as being innovative, but the reality is very different. Often these schools struggle to retain staff, the teaching is completely prescriptive, and the rules for students are overly harsh and dehumanizing. Other charter schools claim to be innovative by having students work on a computer at home instead of in a classroom. Is this innovative or merely less expensive for the school’s profit managers?
In our school district, we consistently try to adapt to meet the needs of our students. We are a traditional, community-based school system, where we are required to educate all students. Our teachers are highly trained for their jobs. I know there are some people who have had bad experiences in our system. That is inevitable. But for the most part teachers go out of their way to ensure that kids are respected and that learning is a high priority.
I strongly believe that we could do our jobs even better if there were fewer state-mandated tests, which, on a regular basis, disrupt the flow of education. If teachers were given more time to teach, and students were not under pressure to take so many high-stakes tests, school would be a more positive experience for all.
Although excessive and unnecessary testing stifles innovation, teaching and learning, CH-UH has continued a tradition of experimental programs that try to meet the needs of all students. Charter schools do not have the lock on innovation. In fact, although wrapped in a bright package, for the most part, they reveal quite the opposite.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Heights High, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.