We must retain and attract school district employees

In the beginning of May, about one month after being laid off, one of our CH-UH teachers was recalled to her assignment by administration. She refused the recall because she had gotten a job in another district—one of the more wealthy districts in Northeast Ohio, where it is unlikely that she will have to worry about being rated poorly on teacher evaluations for low student growth measures. The teacher is young and great at her job, enthusiastic and vibrant in her classroom. And we lost her.

We wish her and all of the teachers who will [no longer] be working in our school district well, and we will miss them. It is our loss. Of course, this is not the first time someone has left CH-UH employment, and won’t be the last.

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 10:39 AM, 05.30.2016

Engaged learning does wonders for students

After 18 years of teaching in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school system, I took a year's leave of absence to rejuvenate my teaching enthusiasm by exploring ways to engage students with meaningful, hands-on learning experiences.

I taught special education at Heights High for most of my career and, regrettably, saw firsthand the problem of student disengagement. I also saw that outdoor, hands-on activities engage and motivate students. When I take a class outdoors for a lesson, learning comes alive and students become more engaged in learning. Outdoors, the learning experience becomes more real and more accessible. I believe the Heights community can be the catalyst to enable our schools to embrace hands-on outdoor learning experiences.    

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Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 5:30 PM, 04.29.2016

An argument against standardization in education

When I started teaching math in the CH-UH school district in 1988, the requirements for graduation included one, then two, math classes, neither of which had to be Algebra I. Some kids took the Algebra I (geometry through calculus) courses, but others chose Basic Math, Applied Math, or Business Math. In Ohio today, the lowest level of high school math is Algebra I, and all students must take four years of math, including Algebra II. The assumption from the great state of Ohio is that every child should be ready to attend a four-year college, if they so choose.

I have often wondered why it is that everyone needs so much formal math (strange coming from someone who actually likes math and teaches Algebra II). I wonder how many people actually use Algebra II skills in daily life or in their jobs. My wild guess is that it is probably a small percentage of the population.

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Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 5:45 PM, 04.29.2016

Public money for schools is lining private pockets

Who pays for our roads? We do, from a combination of different taxes. Roads are part of the infrastructure we require as a society. I know that I will not get a chance to drive on all of the roads that my taxes support, but I assume that other people do and that they are there for the common good. What if these taxes were used to pave golf lanes on a private country club, or a church or synagogue parking lot? Is that the same? Is that what public money is meant to be used for?

Somehow, in the twisted thinking of our state legislature, tax money collected for our school district is diverted to several private enterprises over which our district has no control, and financially supports students the district does not serve.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, Posted 9:19 AM, 03.28.2016

Should real estate websites steer home sales?

Heights Community Congress (HCC) has written here before, alerting readers to what we’ve dubbed “educational redlining,” whereby websites like Zillow.com influence homebuyers to pass up that nice house in a moderate-income community in favor of that also nice house in a more affluent community, based on a color-coded comparison of public school test scores.

We pointed out the research-supported fact that—of course—schools in the more affluent community have higher test scores, because academic achievement has been shown to correlate highly with family economic status, making test scores not a true measure of school “quality.”

We contend that evaluating a school district entails far more than a red, yellow, or green dot. It’s a matter of seeing and experiencing for oneself or, if that’s not possible, listening to someone who has.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, Posted 10:36 AM, 03.10.2016

Creative collision can help cure urban decay

More than 50 years ago, the proposed Clark-Lee Freeway rumbled toward the Heights louder than a stampede of lost buffalo. Fortunately, a group of community organizers stopped the proposed highway. Their victory spawned the founding of the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, on the site of what would have been the intersection of crossing highways.

When a communitywide conflict results in a communitywide asset, it’s a creative collision, of sorts, demonstrating the innovation and resourcefulness of our beautiful cities. The Nature Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, and I'm thankful for its legacy.   

As Cleveland Heights struggles to cure pockets of urban decay, we face a similar crisis. Instead of hearing the rumbling hooves of a misguided highway proposal, our city's urban decay is more like the silent, disease-spreading mosquito.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, Posted 9:44 AM, 03.03.2016

Are constitutional rights a local issue?

Is amending the U.S. Constitution a local issue, and, if so, how?

Ever since an initiative by Cleveland Heights citizens placed Issue 32 on the November 2013 ballot, some residents have asked that question. Two city council members expressed opposing views on it at a Jan. 21 public hearing, where residents testified about abuses of corporate power and the corrupting effect of money in politics.

Issue 32 stated: “Shall the proposed ordinance entitled ‘Political Influence by Corporate Entities,’ establishing annual public hearings before City Council on this subject, and sending a summary of the public hearing to Congressional and State representatives, and calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with Constitutional rights and that money is not the equivalent of speech, be adopted?” (Emphasis added.)

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Volume 9, Issue 3, Posted 11:46 AM, 03.01.2016

Choice in education benefits the community

Choosing the appropriate type of education and school for our children is a fundamental liberty. In Cleveland Heights and University Heights, options range from public schools to parochial schools, private schools and homeschooling. Unfortunately, for many families, the tuition of parochial and private schools eliminates these options. The time commitment required by parents for homeschooling eliminates that option as well, leaving many families a single alternative—the public system.  

There are a variety of reasons parents desire a choice in education: It may be that a child is not thriving at a particular school; a child may be having social problems with a particular group of children; parents may disagree with teachers and/or the curriculum being taught; they may desire a more faith-based approach to learning. It also may be that parents are opposed to the national Common Core Standards now used in the public schools, and are seeking a more creative, locally based approach. Ohio’s EdChoice Program gives families who reside in underperforming districts some alternatives in their choice of schooling.

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Volume 9, Issue 3, Posted 11:49 AM, 03.01.2016

CH Teachers Union embarks on listening initiative

Most people probably think that teachers are better at giving information than receiving it. Over the summer, the leadership of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union had discussions about what we don’t know, including what the parents of our students want from teachers and the schools. We have always worked closely with parents through PTAs and in other ways, but we figured it could be interesting to dig a little deeper and have conversations to see what common interests we have with parents of varying backgrounds.

We came up with a way to find out more through small listening sessions with parents at as many schools as possible. Teams formed and trained to meet with parents and ask four questions:

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Volume 9, Issue 3, Posted 11:41 AM, 03.01.2016

Deny the petition to rezone Vandemar Street homes

At its Jan. 15 meeting, Cleveland Heights City Council acknowledged receipt of a petition to rezone the two occupied residences on Vandemar Street closest to the Center Mayfield Theater, from residential to commercial (C-2). The rezoning is so that they can be demolished, along with the Center Mayfield Theater and Mayfield Noble Building, to make room for a 16-pump Circle K gas station/convenience store.

The planned gas station is destructive. It would turn two occupied homes; two buildings that, until last year, housed four businesses, including a day care; and a historic building into one large gas station. It would turn two backyards and a small playground into a “greenspace” between the convenience store and the neighboring house. (I do not expect this “greenspace” to be just as well-kept and family-friendly.)

The draft for the Community Vision section of the impending Cleveland Heights Master Plan (www.clevelandheights.com/master-plan) sets a course for development in our city. It says lots of good things. It says we want walkable business districts. It says we want to “continue to promote the preservation of historic homes and buildings.” It says cleaner and greener.

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Volume 9, Issue 3, Posted 10:18 AM, 02.23.2016

Making the case for Tiger Nation

I was probably one of the biggest skeptics when the CH-UH school district starting using “Tiger Nation” for everything. At the time I didn’t think anything needed fixing, or that there was a need for a unifying brand. I have deep roots in the community and it seemed like an affront at first. My family has been sending students to the Heights schools since the 1920s. My wife and I are both graduates, along with both of my parents and now our daughters. With all of that history, as well as working in the school system for more than 25 years, it took me a while to warm up to the whole Tiger Nation initiative. 

I have spoken to fellow residents, who are strong CH-UH school supporters, who don’t understand what Tiger Nation means and don’t feel it connects them to the schools.

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Volume 9, Issue 2, Posted 11:23 AM, 01.29.2016

Form-based zoning code fosters revitalization of urban places

Can urban design terms like “walkability,” “place making” and “high-quality public realm” save our cities? The answer lies in our ability to harness their value.  

The other day, a friend described her husband’s aggressive but loving questioning of her day as “har-asking”—a blend of the words "harass" and "ask." It made me laugh, because it described my style of caring. It’s a good fit for this line of questioning.

Living in a first-ring suburb, we’re familiar with the challenges of our post-industrial cities: the downward spiral caused by accelerating infrastructure costs and a shrinking population. Fortunately for the Heights, an invisible asset was left behind by B.R. Deming (a founder and developer of Cleveland Heights) and it can be harnessed to pull us out of our descending path.

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Volume 9, Issue 1, Posted 10:23 AM, 12.31.2015

Teachers union promotes consumer awareness

T-shirts are often available for fundraising, group cohesion, and to show commitment to a common cause. Over the years, I have become choosier about the T-shirts I wear because sometimes the message on the shirt is overpowered by its origin.

When I look at the label on many T-shirts, I am uncomfortable with who might be making and assembling the fabric, and under what conditions, and who is printing the shirt. I know that it is virtually impossible to place these kinds of standards on everything I wear, but for me, and many people I know, trying to be socially conscious consumers of printed T-shirts is important.

The T-shirts that the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union designs are always printed at a union shop on a union-made shirt. Some argue that this practice is prohibitively expensive. That has not been our experience. Our T-shirts cost less than $8, even when we buy a small number of them.

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Volume 9, Issue 1, Posted 10:17 AM, 12.31.2015

Inner-ring suburbs create community development corporations

Community development corporations (CDCs) first emerged in the 1960s in the most distressed neighborhoods of central cities. They now number in the thousands. In the city of Cleveland, they took hold in the late 1970s in several neighborhoods, and now there are several dozen in Cleveland, all supported by the city.

Cities like Cleveland also have created economic development departments to retain and attract businesses to strengthen their tax bases and gain jobs for residents. Many suburbs, including Cleveland Heights, have followed suit. Currently, though, the Cleveland Heights economic development director’s position is vacant.

Some of the inner-ring suburbs have also created CDCs. These are nonprofit corporations with their own boards which work with their city government but also offer separate advantages.

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Volume 9, Issue 1, Posted 10:14 AM, 12.31.2015

Residents participate in survey on future of Severance

A preliminary tally of responses to a survey undertaken in association with the recent FutureHeights community forum on the future of Severance Town Center showed results that most will not find surprising.

Of the 318 completing the survey, about one in 10 reported having attended the forum, and a slightly higher number said they watched the video of the event that is viewable at www.futureheights.org. Nearly 80 percent reported going to Severance at least monthly (42 percent reported going there at least weekly), and, though the focus of both the forum and the survey was the future of the retail center inside Severance Circle, both were set in the context of the entire district, which includes the struggling center and the mostly viable properties outside the circle.

More than 90 percent said they went to Severance to shop, and more than 70 percent cited government services as reasons for going there. Forty-one percent reported going there to shop for groceries at Dave’s, and smaller percentages of respondents reported going there to eat, for medical services, or to bank.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 10:52 AM, 11.24.2015

CH-UH schools seek to offer more wrap-around services

When I was growing up in Cleveland Heights in the 1960s, I remember that Taylor Elementary was not only a school my older siblings attended, but also a place where the Cub Scouts met, I attended summer day camp, and my family played volleyball one night a week. 

Students and families in the CH-UH public schools have access to a treasure trove of services outside of the normal curriculum, including after-school programs, partnerships with community agencies, referrals to health and mental health services, free- or reduced-price lunch programs through the federal government, and countless others.

On Oct. 28, Superintendent Dixon and I took a small team of community members and district staff to Columbus, to learn how Cincinnati has coordinated “wrap-around” services into its schools.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 9:44 AM, 12.01.2015

Making Ohio a Right to Work state would weaken Cleveland Heights Teachers Union

Think about these three scenarios regarding buying an ice cream sundae:

  • The first person gets a sundae with a cherry on top and pays full price.
  • The second gets a sundae, doesn’t want the cherry, and pays full price. In fairness, the ice cream clerk rebates five cents for not taking a cherry.
  • The third gets a sundae, doesn’t want the cherry, and refuses to pay anything.

These three situations exemplify the laws in different states pertaining to collective bargaining agreements.

Paying full price are union members. They pay dues and are represented in their relationship with their employer, and with their state and national parent organizations.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 2:58 PM, 10.29.2015

Passage of Issue 8 is critical to the Heights and the county

On Nov. 3, Cuyahoga County voters will have the opportunity to continue to invest in Cuyahoga County’s critical arts and culture community by renewing the penny-and-a-half per cigarette tax they originally approved in 2006. In the decade since voters passed the levy by a resounding 57 percent, our arts and culture sector has helped fuel Cuyahoga County’s revitalization.

Since grants funded by the arts and culture levy were distributed in 2007, more than $125 million has been awarded for operations and projects to more than 300 organizations operating at more than 2,500 locations in every corner of the county. These include everything from museums and cultural institutions to small community theaters, nonprofit galleries, nature centers and much more.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 2:46 PM, 10.28.2015

City takes step in the right direction for water in Cleveland Heights

On Sept. 21, Cleveland Heights City Council authorized City Manager Tanisha Briley to negotiate an agreement with the Cleveland Water Division. The vote was unanimous among the six council members present. (Melissa Yasinow was absent.)

The City of Cleveland Heights has taken a significant and potentially historic step.

For the past 110 years, since the introduction of piped water and indoor plumbing, Cleveland Heights has been a master meter community. This means the city has purchased water from Cleveland and resold it at a marked-up rate to residents and businesses. Unlike tax increases, which must be approved by voters, and service fees, which are authorized by city council, water rates can be raised at the discretion of the city manager and her staff.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 9:27 AM, 10.27.2015

Mayor Wilcox urges CH voters to vote for Issue 53

Over the past four years, the state of Ohio has slashed the state’s local government fund and eliminated the inheritance tax that resulted in $7 million in cuts to the City of Cleveland Heights budget, leaving the city with a significant financial hole. We currently face a $2.6 million deficit for our 2016 budget. 

We have done our best to offset these losses through belt tightening, staffing cuts and regional cooperation. In the past decade we have reduced our staff by about 19 percent and since 2007 by 15 percent—or about 100 employees in total. In 2014 and 2015 we have taken many actions to cut our budget—and find efficiencies.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 10:13 AM, 10.20.2015

CH council candidate Nadas explains "change of heart" in now supporting passage of Issue 53

I began my campaign for city council with a set of ideas on how best to tackle the challenges facing our city. However, I have stated many times that I do not have all the answers and invite suggestions from all of our residents as community input will be vital to the success of any actions taken to get Cleveland Heights back on the right track. Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to speak with many different people and have been challenging myself to not just come to the table with my own ideas and solutions, but to also embrace the will of the people, as if I am elected I will be representing that will. In that spirit, I have come to change my view on Issue 53, the 0.25 percent income tax increase, and now support its passage.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 10:16 AM, 10.20.2015

Redlining is taking aim at public schools

Real estate websites like Zillow.com are popular places to check out homes for sale. With every home listing, Zillow.com even provides a color-coded rating of nearby schools. Sounds helpful, doesn't it?

Heights Community Congress (HCC) took a deeper look into this practice and found that the ratings are provided to Zillow by a website called GreatSchools.com. The ratings are based on [school] test scores, which research consistently has shown correlate highly with students' socioeconomic status rather than reliably measuring school "quality."

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Volume 8, Issue 10, Posted 1:56 PM, 09.30.2015

Teacher shortages are predictable

I have a difficult time encouraging young people to enter the teaching profession these days. This was not always the case. I am proud to be a teacher, enjoy my students, feel invigorated by always trying to figure out ways of reaching young minds, and feel satisfied when I can offer counsel to students. Over the years, things have changed. It is not at all the same profession as when I started, close to 30 years ago.

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Volume 8, Issue 10, Posted 1:50 PM, 09.30.2015

Cleveland Heights should take advantage of Ohio's transparency initiative

Earlier this month, I went to a meeting regarding Ohio Checkbook (www.ohiocheckbook.com), which is Ohio's transparency initiative. It is spearheaded by Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, and is supported by his predecessor and political opponent, Kevin Boyce.

Launched in December 2014, Ohio's open checkbook allows taxpayers to see how their money is spent by the state—its sole purpose is to EMPOWER TAXPAYERS TO MAKE POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE.

Do you feel empowered in Cleveland Heights?

This program is setting the standard for government transparency in the country and has brought Ohio's transparency rating from #46 to #1 in the nation.

This program is blind to partisanship; taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent. The government is a STEWARD of our money. The information about how our money is spent belongs to the people, not to the government.

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Volume 8, Issue 10, Posted 10:42 AM, 08.25.2015

Ohio's state report card does not measure what counts

We live in a time where everyone demands accountability. For public schools this has been twisted into making comparisons between different schools and students using some supposedly standard measures. Many of these measures are based on high-stakes tests that purport to test what students should have mastered at a particular point in time. Other measures report on graduation rates, gap closing and student progress. In fact, there are so many categories on which to report, we often get lost in the mud of numbers. The more numbers there are, the more we blindly accept their legitimacy.

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Volume 8, Issue 9, Posted 11:22 PM, 08.31.2015

Alphabetize the Heights

“Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”

Larry Page stated as much in his first letter to shareholders, and repeats this important thought when announcing that the concept of Google that existed before Aug. 10, 2015 would now be known as Alphabet. Everything previously known under the domain of Google, from Web search tools to self-driving cars, will be under the new Alphabet umbrella.

Alphabet’s structure allows for —oversight and guidance from its founders, while companies under the behemoth—Google X, Calico, Nesteach operate with their own CEO.

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Volume 8, Issue 9, Posted 11:18 PM, 08.31.2015

East Cleveland's challenges provide opportunities for a regional approach

The daunting financial problems of the City of East Cleveland are well known. Mayor Gary Norton states that the city has an annual budget shortfall of $7 million, and State Auditor David Yost sees the city’s financial situation as the worst among Ohio’s 251 cities. According to Yost, the city’s only options are bankruptcy, cutting deals with its creditors, or merging with another city.

Because it borders only two other municipalities, Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, those cities would be its only possible merger partners, and, while East Cleveland City Council President Barbara Thomas is on record as favoring bankruptcy, prevailing opinion—though not necessarily in East Cleveland itself—seems to be that annexation to the City of Cleveland is the most viable way to address East Cleveland’s problems.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 4:08 PM, 07.31.2015

Many tensions surround intradistrict school transfers

Every year, according to state law, parents may apply to their local school districts to secure their children a place at a building in the district other than the one to which they would normally be assigned.

Districts generally make an attempt to accommodate requests. Enrollment at the requested school is but one factor to consider; the Ohio Department of Education also requires, for example, that districts consider the racial imbalances that could result from large-scale movement into or out of a particular school.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 4:05 PM, 07.31.2015

Light up Lee Road

On a recent beautiful early summer evening, my friend and I walked from our yoga class to the Stone Oven Bakery for a salad. Three adjacent blocks of Lee Road hosted tables filled with people from all over, dining at Taste, Anatolia, TavCo, Phoenix Coffee, Black Box Fix, or tasting at The Wine Spot. I am sure the patio behind the Colony was jumping, too. Just a few steps beyond this vibrant scene, there are storefront windows covered with paper and “for rent” signs. 

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Volume 8, Issue 7, Posted 2:27 PM, 06.29.2015

The inequity of social spaces in the CH-UH school community

When considering the complexities of educational policy in diverse urban settings, the writings of Pierre Bourdieu resonate with a particular saliency. Strongly acclimatized to hierarchies of power, attentive to conflict, and always contextualized to setting, Bourdieu notes that “social space”—that congested, conversant world of the political, the sociological and the ideological—is limited by a stratification imposed by the elite. In order to maintain power, highly positioned players will ensure, even tacitly, that others’ access is limited. Bourdieu argues that this capriciousness buoys those with the most privilege and allows perpetual inequality to cycle through sociocultural structures.

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Volume 8, Issue 6, Posted 1:51 PM, 05.29.2015

Pedestrian power promotes positive community

Those of us of a certain age will recall our grandparents adamantly declaring, "Back in our day, we used to walk everywhere!" Well, call me a throwback, but I love walking, for the humble act of putting one foot in front of the other is indeed a very powerful endeavor that speaks volumes about us as individuals and as a society. Walking is not only good for the heart but the mind, too, for how many countless revelations, moments of eureka, and problems have been solved when creative thoughts arise in the midst of an endorphin-producing stroll.

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 1:17 PM, 05.01.2015

Meet Observer volunteers and staff on April 22

Each month in the Heights Observer, this column invites our readers to add their voices to this nonprofit community publication by writing the Cleveland Heights- and University Heights-focused articles they want to read, and submitting them via the Observer’s online Member Center at www.heightsobserver.org.

On April 22, 6–8 p.m., Heights Observer’s volunteer editors and part-time editorial and design staff will gather at the BottleHouse Brewery, 2050 Lee Road, for an informal meet and greet with community members who would like to know more about the Observer, and how they can contribute to this volunteer-written publication. No reservations are required and the event is open to all (but you’ll need to buy your own drinks).

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 1:27 PM, 03.30.2015

Efforts underway to make CH a Fair Trade Town

The City of Cleveland Heights is known for being diverse and progressive, home to arts and an all-around great place to live, eat and play. With retailers throughout the Heights such as Revive, Ten Thousand Villages Cleveland, Dave’s and Zagara’s Marketplace, we have a plethora of fair trade items at our fingertips.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 1:25 PM, 03.30.2015

Protect our Heights schools: understanding school funding

School funding in the state of Ohio is an incredibly complex issue—one that confuses even the most well-informed people. This article aims to clarify some important points as the community decides whether to support our local public schools on May 5.

What is a school levy anyway? An operating levy, such as Issue 2, is a request for an increase in property taxes that would be used to pay for the general operations of a school district. These tax dollars pay teacher salaries and utility bills; purchase new and replacement supplies, including technology and textbooks; and allow us to meet the many and varied needs of our diverse population of students. This is how public school districts are funded in the state of Ohio, according to House Bill 920.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 1:21 PM, 03.30.2015

CH-UH school district requires scrutiny

In May 2015 we face yet another school levy, designated for “current operations.”

The county auditor’s website indicates that CH-UH City School District residents pay 15 different tax levies or bonds to support the district.

Of these levies, 12 are for "current operations." They total 145.14 mills and are “continuous,” which means the district can continue taxing us past the levy’s “end date.”

The remaining three taxes are the facilities bond, a library bond, and a "forever" tax levy for building maintenance. Together, these total 149.59 millages we pay to the CH-UH City School District.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 10:23 AM, 02.24.2015

How to deal with the foreclosure crisis

When Maureen O'Neil became chief code official and neighborhood improvement coordinator in Youngstown a few years ago, she noticed many homes were blighted and in desperate need of repair. She and her staff found that, in many cases, the former owners were behind in their mortgage payments and were evicted by the lenders, who failed to complete the necessary foreclosure forms. These were referred to as “zombie foreclosures.” Thus, the city assumed the vacant parcels were still the property of the former owners. The city had to perform basic maintenance, such as lawn mowing, snow shoveling and minor structural repairs, which on a citywide basis totaled about $100,000 per year, and assume the cost.

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 2:54 PM, 02.26.2015

Keep our community strong by protecting Heights schools

Most people who live in the Heights will agree that this is a special place. Our communities, with their focus on the arts and culture, and their commitment to diversity and integration, are unique among American suburbs.

One of our great strengths is a populace that values education and that invests in the education of all of its young people. Our community’s commitment to our schools has been clearly demonstrated in recent years by the strong support shown for critically important levies and issues that fund the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District.

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 2:52 PM, 02.26.2015

Coach Rotsky is an asset, not just a football coach

Cleveland Heights High School recently lost an amazing asset and mentor to its football program, Coach Jeff Rotsky.  Some people in the community believe that football is a pastime, a mere choreographed battle of athletes with no vision past 100 yards, but I beg to differ. I would like to share why I think the antiquated stereotype is wrong and how Coach Rotsky's departure will deeply affect our community. I petition you to listen.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 3:30 PM, 01.29.2015

School choice and thriving children

We are a region rich with school choice. We choose between private/independent, Montessori, religious, charter and neighborhood public schools, all within our community. My first- and fourth-grade daughters are thriving in their school and getting the very best of these options. Here’s why:

  • They are in small classes of 18–21 kids.
  • They have amazing, committed, experienced teachers. My first-grader’s two teachers each has 24-plus years of experience, and each of my fourth-grader’s teachers has more than 15 years of experience.
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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 12:02 PM, 01.05.2015

Embracing technology will help local businesses attract more local customers

Local businesses are challenged because of the economy, increased costs, less traffic, online competitors and a lack of resources. However, as one of many business-to-business solutions providers of a variety of tools that would assist them to overcome these issues, [I consider it] common knowledge to us collectively that local merchants don’t respond to efforts to address these matters. In fact, it isn’t cost effective for us to repeatedly and fruitlessly offer a new tool to businesses, that only costs them $39 and is proven to work, so we have no choice but to go to chains or go out of business ourselves. Locals don’t take calls or take the time necessary because they don’t have the time or energy and they—and the community—suffer for it.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 12:00 PM, 01.05.2015

Shop local this holiday season, and every day

I was driving from downtown the other day and noticed a billboard for a new company called Presto Fresh. It is a full-service grocery delivery company working with Zagara's Marketplace—for more than 75 years a locally owned and operated neighborhood grocery store. The owner, John Zagara, is a businessman whom I respect and appreciate for what he gives back to the community. John has always tried to stay one step ahead of the ever more difficult game of being successful in business.

What struck me is that this new business of home delivery of groceries is not just for shut-ins, but also for people who don't have the time to shop. We're all busy. Somehow we have lost our time-management skills. Some don't take time to even sit down and have dinner with their family. To me, this started the degradation of the family unit. No more time to talk about school, art, politics or sports because we are too busy.

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 11:14 AM, 11.25.2014

Shop local to invest in our community

Recently, I attended a meeting hosted by the Heights-Hillcrest Regional Chamber of Commerce, facilitated by Peter Benkendorf, Dick Clough and Jack Ricchuito of The Cleveland Collaboratory, regarding the importance of championing local business and buying local. It was with a great deal of enthusiasm that business, private sector and community leaders came together to brainstorm implementing a local/regional campaign. Do you bank locally? Do you eat at a locally owned restaurant? Do you think local before Big Box? The way you spend your dollars affects the economy locally and regionally, which is directly related to job retention and creation, along with building a healthy, vibrant community.

It is calculated that if every person in Cuyahoga County would shift $100 of his or her spending to a locally owned business, it would add $126 million to the local economy. It is interesting to note that the economic impact of $100 spent locally is approximately 80 percent greater than if the $100 is spent at a chain.

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 10:11 AM, 11.18.2014

FutureHeights will encourage discourse, rather than endorse ballot issues

In its more than 10-year history, FutureHeights has never endorsed an issue on any ballot.

This year, the FutureHeights Board of Directors made the decision to consider endorsing the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library’s Operating Levy. The board considered whether FutureHeights, as an organization, would endorse the levy, leaving aside personal support, or lack thereof, for the levy.

The board discussed and debated the levy issue and met with a member of the levy committee. Ultimately, the FutureHeights Board of Directors decided that, while FutureHeights could, theoretically, endorse a ballot issue, the board does not believe that it would be wise to have FutureHeights, as an organization, endorse any ballot issue at this time.

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 11:02 AM, 11.03.2014

Welcome Home: Heights Authors was a blast

On the beautiful Sunday afternoon of Oct. 5, the Friends of the Heights Libraries, FutureHeights and Reaching Heights gave a wonderful event for newcomers to the Heights. Thanks to the host, Nighttown, and generous sponsors Simply Charming, Motorcars, realtor Susan Delaney of Howard Hanna, DVUV, and Keller National. Appletree Books and Mac's Backs, our local independent booksellers, helped FutureHeights organize this event.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 10:21 AM, 10.31.2014

Class differences in the Heights

We seem to embrace racial integration, ethnic integration and religious integration with much more effort than class integration. When families move to the Heights who are apparently middle class or above, we welcome them into our circles and invite them to join community groups, serve on committees, enjoy recreational activities and so on. But I haven’t observed the same type of hospitality and warmth offered to people coming from lower-class areas who might be trying to escape the dysfunction of poverty and provide a better environment for their families. There is no welcome wagon or integration process for them.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 10:20 AM, 10.31.2014

Noble Neighbors are on the move

In January 2014, in response to a random, violent attack on one of our neighbors while she was walking, Noble Neighbors was born. Thanks to Cynthia Griggins, who took the lead, and others, we began meeting in our homes and with local police and city representatives, as a show of support, and because we wanted to do something to reclaim our area as a beautiful, welcoming, inclusive community. We continue to grow in numbers and are partnering with local churches that are providing space for monthly meetings, which have already outgrown our living rooms.

Noble Neighbors is committed to doing our part to make this area an even better place to live, work and raise families. Efforts encompass attracting new homeowners, safety, beautification and community-building events. We realize this can only happen by reaching across our rich cultural boundaries for a common purpose—the revitalization of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 10:18 AM, 10.31.2014

The roles of the County Executive and Council

This year, for only second time in the 200 years of Cuyahoga County, voters will elect a County Executive and half of the members of the County Council.  

Some people know that acting upon the decision of voters, we have changed our form of government to a Charter with a County Council and County Executive, while others might think we still have three County Commissioners.  Even those who are aware of the Charter may ask, “What are the roles of the County Executive and the County Council? What do they do? Why should I care?” 

As someone who has been part of the new Charter government these past four years and someone who is currently running for the position of County Executive, I will try to answer these questions.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 12:49 PM, 10.03.2014

Heights libraries are vital to our community

The immense value of our local Heights libraries cannot be taken for granted. The services they provide can sometimes seem routine: lending books, connecting residents to the Web, running programs for children, providing resources for job seekers, and more. But these services are fundamental to all of us. Our libraries are part of the bedrock of our community and must not be overlooked.

Since the library first opened its doors in the Heights in 1921, it has helped to shape the community’s success. The libraries have anchored our walkable neighborhoods, educated our citizenry, and provided top-notch, free services to every resident. And it is not only Heights residents who think we have a wonderful library system. Library Journal has awarded our library 5 Stars—its top grade—for the fifth year in a row! Heights Libraries is ranked seventh in the country for libraries of its size.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 3:08 PM, 09.29.2014

October is national Fair Trade Month

October is the 11th annual National Fair Trade Month. Fair trade products are "food or crafts that are produced under standards designed to end and prevent the poverty, sweatshop labor conditions, environmental degradation, etc. that are endemic to the free trade 'race to the bottom' that puts profits above people and the planet," according to the Global Exchange human rights organization.

Fair trade products can be found throughout Cleveland Heights, in grocery stores, local boutiques and major chains. As the holiday shopping season begins, this month's special designation offers a chance to reflect a little bit more on purchases.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 3:08 PM, 09.29.2014

Stop Mass Incarceration movement plans October month of mass resistance

Last April, three older white women here in the Heights sent out a letter to friends and sympathetic acquaintances calling on them to take up the call of author Michelle Alexander, to help build a social movement against the new Jim Crow. We read Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, and were horrified [to learn] that the war on drugs has caused an astounding rise in the incarceration of people of color for minor drug offenses over the last 40 years. Alexander’s exposure of the blatant injustice at every level of the criminal “justice” system had a profound effect on us. We felt compelled to do something.   

We were also deeply troubled by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, and inspired by the “Stop Stop and Frisk” movement in NYC. Our movement, Puncture the Silence-Stop Mass Incarceration, was formed in a living room in Cleveland Heights, where eight older women unanimously endorsed the Stop Mass Incarceration Network’s (SMIN) call for an October “Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror and the Criminalization of Generations,” initiated by Carl Dix and Cornel West.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 3:03 PM, 09.29.2014

A collaborative approach gives community building the best chance for success

Since its inception, FutureHeights has provided tools for citizens to become more engaged in their community, bring innovative ideas forward to confront our challenges and have a greater voice in civic life. Cleveland Heights is a city of neighborhoods, and it is only with strong, vibrant neighborhoods that our city will be able to sustain itself and remain a desirable place to live and work.

This year, FutureHeights has applied for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding through the City of Cleveland Heights to help support the addition of a staff member who can oversee a community-building program. Through this program, FutureHeights would support existing neighborhood groups and assist new ones in forming. We would train neighborhood residents in neighborhood asset mapping, data analysis and resident engagement, to enable them to create priorities for their own neighborhoods. 

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 10:57 AM, 09.16.2014

Heights Libraries levy campaign kicks into gear

Did you know that there two election days this fall? 

First, on Thursday, Sept. 18, our Heights Libraries will hold a Sesame Street Block party at the Lee Road Library. At the block party, a close election between Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch will be decided by your votes. It will be a great time for kids and families, and we expect some of our local elected leaders to join us and help count the votes!

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 1:48 PM, 08.28.2014

How to encourage more bicycling in the Heights

I would like to see how Cleveland Heights looks when 4,500 people are riding bikes. We will certainly be healthier, wealthier and maybe happier than being stuck in traffic.

Does this express the sentiments of the 1 percent? In Cleveland Heights, the 1 percent are those the 2010 census counted as bike commuters—that’s 450 people. It doesn’t count kids who bike to school or spandex-clad weekend warriors—just the adult weekday bike commuters.

Cycling experts estimated that 60 percent of adults identity themselves as interested in the idea of bike commuting, but are concerned about riding close to cars. So, how do we get that 60 percent to consider riding a bike for transportation—especially to commute?

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 1:44 PM, 08.28.2014

It's a wild life here, but animal traps should be used with care

One Friday my neighbor called to ask if I’d put out a chipmunk trap. No, although chipmunks are all over the place. We once had a cat named Frizzy that left dead chipmunks around. I would put them in an old cat-food bag and stick them in the freezer until trash day. No point in leaving them around to smell.

Well, said my neighbor, there’s a skunk caught in a trap near my fence. She had called the city to no avail. Since her husband and grown son were dealing with it, I put it out of my mind until I went to bed that night. My bedroom smelled as though a skunk was under the bed. I would check the foundation Saturday morning.

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Volume 7, Issue 8, Posted 11:30 AM, 07.31.2014

The heart of Cleveland Heights is lit again . . . by kids

How do you “feel” the community of Cleveland Heights? How about through music, laughter and delicious food, as residents found June 11 at Taste of The Heights. Here, the whole Cleveland Heights gamut joined the staff and board and kids of the Heights Youth Club (HYC) at a festival of fun that benefitted its youth. Taste of the Heights, HYC’s annual fundraiser, was a brilliant success for all involved.

Twenty Cleveland Heights restaurants were the key to its success as each donated the best of their menus to produce a generous smorgasbord of selections for guests. This at a time when the local restaurants of our community were voted the third best in the whole state!

Dorothy King, new HYC board member, was inspired seeing the result of the staff and board’s hard work to make this worthwhile event happen, and to see Heights residents support it so wholeheartedly.

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Volume 7, Issue 8, Posted 10:51 AM, 07.29.2014

We Are A Colony: Why we give and why we trust

On July 18, The Plain Dealer ran a letter to the editor from a Cleveland Heights resident ("Cedar Lee Merchants are trying to profit off Jim Brennan’s murder") expressing shock “that the Cedar Lee Merchants Association has seen fit to turn the death of bar/restaurant owner Jim Brennan into a financial windfall (which they are calling a fundraiser) for the organization.”

I write today to clarify that every element of community organizing that has taken place in the weeks since Jim’s murder has been conducted with goodwill, love, compassion—and in collaboration with Jim’s grieving family. To underscore the degree to which these efforts are supported by the Brennan family, the “We Are A Colony” Facebook page on July 12 carried this post: “Please don't let a rumor dampen the wonderful work you are doing. It has helped lift the spirits of my sister Kathy Murphy and the rest of our family.”

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Volume 7, Issue 8, Posted 11:23 AM, 07.22.2014

About the Heights Observer

The Heights Observer is a nonprofit community publication written by community members, and focused on the cities of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

The Observer has no writing staff. The articles the Observer publishes are written by volunteer writers who submit stories about the Heights news, personalities, events and issues that interest them.

The Observer’s only reporters are those in the Heights community who take the time to write about some aspect of the Heights, and share it with others via the Heights Observer. Some Observer writers are regular contributors; others may submit an article once a year, or just once.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 2:34 PM, 06.30.2014

Lake Erie Ink connects people

Visit Lake Erie Ink’s website right now, and you’ll find a simple mission statement: Lake Erie Ink (LEI) provides creative expression opportunities and academic support to youth in the Greater Cleveland community. And insofar as the Coventry-based nonprofit has served more than 2,200 youths in its on- and off-site programs this past year, that’s true. Essential to what LEI does, but that is absent from its mission statement, is the an inevitable byproduct of what happens when youth feel supported and heard—Lake Erie Ink connects people.

When I came to Northeast Ohio to attend college, I was little more than a tourist here. While I had a sense that I wanted to know both Cleveland Heights and Greater Cleveland better, my understanding was peripheral. Outside the bounds of campus, I had no community. When I graduated in 2012 and was hired as an AmeriCorps member at LEI, I got my first glimpse at the kind of community LEI offered—one facilitated by the conviction that young people not only have something to say, but also want to hear others as much as they want to be heard.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 2:30 PM, 06.30.2014

Noble Neighbors gather for first community event

On Saturday, June 7, 50 neighbors gathered to pick up litter, sweep and clean up Noble Road sidewalks between Noble Elementary School and Woodview Road at the first “Noble Neighbors’ Pick Up for Pride!” event. There were so many volunteers with brooms, shovels and grabbers that the group cleaned portions of Monticello Boulevard and some side streets, too. Kids, young parents, middle-aged adults and folks well into retirement proudly picked up together.

Noble Neighbors (www.nobleneighbors.com) is a neighborhood organization that started in January 2014 in a living room on Montford Road. Friends and neighbors of a woman who was brutally and randomly attacked a week earlier called for a meeting with police and city representatives. The group has quickly grown to five times its original size, and just added 20 new members at its Pick Up for Pride event.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 11:33 AM, 06.10.2014