A Teacher's Voice

State funding results in losses for CH-UH

I am trying to understand how schools in Ohio are funded, and it seems about as easy as teaching advanced calculus to a toddler who doesn’t speak English. Public school districts in Ohio are funded by state and local dollars, with federal monies for some programs that support students with disabilities. But the bulk of school funding comes from local property taxes.

In 2018–19 the state of Ohio arrived at $6,020 per student as the base amount to educate a child. The state adjusts this amount based on several considerations.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:15 AM, 11.01.2019

Classroom technology changes over time

Last spring I found an unopened roll of plastic, about 10 inches wide, among some old school stuff. I asked several colleagues if they knew what it was, but no one had a clue. It turned out to be transparency film for an overhead projector, the likes of which no one had seen in a while. Other examples of equipment from my early teaching years are now obsolete. 

So much of the technology we use in the classroom today we too easily take for granted. It is hard to imagine how we would be able to survive without Internet access in our classrooms or without equipment to project from our laptops.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:16 AM, 10.01.2019

Former union leader recalls Wiley wildcat strike

Tom Schmida was president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union from 1990 to 2012. He currently serves as an advisor to me, the current president. Incidentally, Tom was also my homeroom teacher when I attended Wiley, and had me in his seventh-grade social studies class. I asked Tom to write this month’s column, recalling a one-day teachers’ strike . —Ari Klein

This year marks the 40th anniversary of an unprecedented event that rocked the CH-UH school district. In March 1979, teachers at Wiley Junior High (later Wiley Middle School) staged a wildcat strike. Surprisingly, this one-day walkout was not over typical bread-and-butter issues that divide union and management; it was instead a job action directed at the failure of district administration and the Board of Education (BOE) to effectively deal with student discipline problems.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:50 PM, 09.02.2019

Teachers often worry about time away from classrooms

I have a memory of when I was in first grade and my mom and I went to my teacher’s apartment on Superior Road, near Forest Hills, with a gift for her new baby. I do not recall my teacher being absent from school, so perhaps she gave birth at the beginning of summer. 

I have heard negative comments from parents and students about teacher absences, largely because things are never the same with a substitute. As part of our union’s work in arranging leaves of absence for teachers for various reasons, I can tell you that most teachers are concerned about what happens when they are not in the classroom. In fact, just today I received an e-mail from a teacher who will be on an extended leave beginning at the start of the upcoming school year. She is concerned because she has not yet seen a job posting for her position. 

This teacher is worried about her students.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 10:57 AM, 08.01.2019

What we have lost

It is somewhat difficult to explain how education today differs from what it was 15-plus years ago. Much is the same, but the differences are both subtle and obvious. 

There are still textbooks, homework, tests, classes kids enjoy and those they don’t. Heights High has not changed as much as people might think. (Most of the building is new and we finally replaced the 1970s windows that allowed snow and rain to come inside.)

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:17 PM, 06.27.2019

Students are more than the core

When I was vice president of the teachers union, 2006–2012, one of my responsibilities was to select three pieces of student work from the annual CH-UH art show to purchase for display in our union office. The artwork that our students create is so personal and interesting that it always took me a long time to choose. Once I had selected, I’d contact the art teacher to find out if the art I had chosen was, in fact, for sale. Most students were happy to sell their work, but not always. 

If you visit our office at Lee and Mayfield roads, you will see that all of the art on the walls is from these student shows. It is a constant reminder of not only how important our students are, but also how important non-core academic courses are as a source of enrichment in our lives.

Students in the CH-UH schools are lucky to have the opportunity to take visual and performing arts classes. Many school districts see these classes as unimportant “fluff,” because they are not tested by the state.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 8:59 AM, 06.03.2019

There's no rhyme or reason in school testing and funding

I recently watched the Heights High Drama Club perform “The Phantom Tollbooth,” the story of a bored young boy who travels to a different realm with two imaginary kingdoms. After a disagreement, the kingdoms banish the two princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Without these two royals the whole realm is in chaos, as you might expect. This all strikes a little close to home in our current era of national and state politics.

In the play, one of the most interesting scenes is a banquet where the spoken word is taken literally, with “square meals” being some sort of square-shaped food. Students updated the “half-baked ideas” part of the dinner with their own reflections of current society. One pulled out a half-baked idea and read “the earth is flat,” which made everyone chuckle.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:35 AM, 05.02.2019

District's specialty staff provide important services to students

Most members of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union—around 76 percent—are classroom teachers. Another 8 percent are guidance counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, and social workers. Close to 6 percent of our membership comprises ancillary positions—those who work in our media centers, alternative learning environments (formerly known as in-school suspension), and security monitors. 

The remaining 10 percent is specialty staff. Nine of these staffers work as speech and language pathologists (SLP), occupational therapists (OT), and physical therapists (PT). I had several opportunities to meet with these extraordinary people  and learned much about the important work they do with our students.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 10:05 AM, 04.02.2019

Students need opportunities to find and pursue their passions

Many students discover their passions as a result of their experiences in school. For some it is sports or music. For others it is a special class or club that drives them to get up in the morning. Most of these activities have eligibility requirements that serve as an extrinsic motivator to ensure that students perform well in their academic classes.

At Heights High, hundreds of our students are involved in sports, marching band, dance squad, and more. Students participate in these voluntarily even though most of these activities require dedication.

One of my students told me recently that she had three athletic events during one week when she could not do her schoolwork until 10 at night! I was appalled, but understood her desire to pursue an activity in which she excelled.

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Volume 12, Issue 3, Posted 10:50 AM, 03.04.2019

A wish list for the new superintendent

I am only the third president of the CH-UH Teachers Union in 48 years. There is considerable job stability and longevity among school employees, but this does not seem to extend to administrators. During my more than 30 years at CH-UH, there have been at least eight superintendents (including interims), and I would have a difficult time counting the number of principals with whom I have worked. Administrators who have stayed for any significant amount of time have been few. 

That being said, CH-UH will be hiring a new superintendent this spring, and with this important decision will probably come a host of other changes.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 9:49 AM, 02.01.2019

Changing the testing culture

CH-UH kindergarten teachers spoke in unison during public comments at the Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Nov. 5. Their concerns ranged from the excessive time spent assessing our young learners to how our current testing of kindergartners is developmentally inappropriate. 

One teacher stated that by the 25th day of school, teachers had administered five tests. Others stated that some of the tests must be given one on one, which results in a tremendous loss of instructional time. Nearly 90 colleagues and community residents attended the board meeting to support our teachers. Each teacher who spoke asked for time to meet with district officials to rethink what and how we test kindergarten students.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 11:39 AM, 01.02.2019

Teachers union members are committed to the community

Many young people are surprised to see their teachers outside of school, believing we are somehow confined to the classroom day and night. Though teachers work long hours, many are also community leaders. Our members are volunteers at churches and synagogues, scout leaders, band boosters, and PTA members, to name a few. In our teachers union, we believe strongly in community service as part of our core values of promoting social justice and democracy. Here are some examples of the types of activities CH-UH faculty participated in recently:

In September, our members volunteered for the Heritage Home Tour run by Heights Community Congress (HCC). We have been participating in this event for several years by hosting one of the homes on the tour. Many community organizations help out during this community event that showcases special homes and gardens while supporting HCC programming that promotes fair housing, integration, and more.

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Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 4:35 PM, 11.29.2018

Ohio's test-driven culture has unintended consequences

The CH-UH administration has created instructional and testing pacing guides for each grade and most secondary subjects. These are calendars of material to be taught and tested at different points during the year. When these were first implemented, they were merely guidelines on curricula that should be emphasized, but recently they have morphed into restrictive deadlines and lock-step teaching. 

Teachers are now being directed to teach and test within a certain time frame, regardless of the needs of students or the distractions that may occur in class, like a fire drill, for example, that interrupts instruction. There is a need for flexibility in the pacing guides because some students may not be ready to move on as the pacing guide dictates.

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 12:12 PM, 11.01.2018

Teaching in hot classrooms

CH-UH schools opened on Aug. 20 this year, earlier than the traditional opening days I remembered from the past. Then our elementary and middle schools, along with dozens of schools throughout the state, cancelled classes because of extreme heat. You might say that closing the schools had nothing to do with the early starting date, but, in my opinion, staff and students in those buildings were already pretty worn out from extreme late-August temperatures, even before the Labor Day weekend heat wave hit. Our schools have never called off classes because of heat, as far as I know.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 2:42 PM, 09.27.2018

Summer should end with Labor Day

When I was growing up, the official end to summer in Cleveland Heights and University Heights was Labor Day. We had a pretty regular school calendar that started after Labor Day and ended in mid-June. This was the same for almost all school districts. In some states, this calendar is still the norm. As of the 2016–17 school year, CH-UH started back to school two weeks before Labor Day. Cleveland Schools start even earlier. South Euclid starts three weeks before Labor Day. Why do nearly all school districts in Ohio start school earlier and earlier in August?

No one will admit the real reason, but the only explanation is that beginning the school year earlier in the summer gives more instructional time before state testing.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 10:12 PM, 08.13.2018

Training we could all benefit from

In June, Superintendent Dixon invited me to attend racial equity training. I have to admit that I was not thrilled. Still, I decided that it would be helpful to see what this training was all about. I am not sure if my reluctance to attend was because I believed I had nothing new to learn about racial equity, or because I sometimes feel worn out by the racial issues facing our community and our nation.

The workshop was a collaborative effort by the city of Cleveland Heights and the CH-UH city School District. The Racial Equity Institute, based in North Carolina, presented a session on “Measuring Racial Equity: A Groundwater Approach.” It turned out to be one of the most worthwhile workshops that I have attended and I am really glad that I participated.

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Volume 11, Issue 8, Posted 12:40 PM, 07.31.2018

Vouchers take money from public school students

Our state legislature has set up several programs that divert public school dollars to nonpublic entities. Most people believe that charter schools siphon public dollars away from local school districts. Not so widely known, however, is another state program, known as EdChoice, which gives families tuition subsidies for private and parochial schools. The state also created the Jon Peterson Scholarship, a voucher for students with special needs, as well as another voucher for autistic children.

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Volume 11, Issue 7, Posted 10:35 AM, 06.29.2018

Analyzing median teacher salaries

In late April, Patrick O’Donnell, education writer for the Plain Dealer,wrote an article comparing median teacher salaries around the state. He noted the disparity in average and median salary among districts statewide, as well as the large discrepancies among districts in our region. 

Overall, school districts in Northeast Ohio pay higher salaries than much of the rest of the state.

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Volume 11, Issue 6, Posted 4:07 PM, 06.01.2018

Protecting public education through local collective bargaining

As I write this article, teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky are starting their second week of striking. [Teachers in Oklahoma ended their walkout on April 12.] Due to decades of neglect, conditions for students, faculty and staff in those states (and West Virginia, which recently settled its strike) are appalling. From out-of-date textbooks and unsafe buildings, to low wages for teachers, the tipping point for accepting those conditions was finally reached. 

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Volume 11, Issue 5, Posted 4:16 PM, 04.30.2018

A month of testing (or April is the cruelest month)

People generally look forward to spring as a time of renewal after a long, dark cold spell. In Ohio, April brings thoughts of a different kind to many public school teachers, because it is when students are required to take state tests. Many of my colleagues dread this time of year, and non-school folks can probably guess the reasons. I will focus this article on the lost potential that occurs when we are mandated to give state tests.

At the high school, there are four end-of-course exams given to ninth- and 10th-graders. Each test has two parts, and each part takes 90 to 110 minutes to administer. The state allows for a one-month period, usually beginning in April, for districts to give the tests.

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Volume 11, Issue 4, Posted 4:22 PM, 03.29.2018

Learning and teaching in scouting

When I was a Cub Scout at Taylor Elementary School there was an enormous uproar because a woman wanted (was willing) to become the leader of our pack. This was new and different for the early 1970s. Once registered and trained, she did a great job, as we all expected. I stayed in scouting through high school and volunteered with a troop when I was in college.

A month after I started teaching in CH-UH, I was asked to become the scoutmaster for the troop in which I was an assistant. I accepted even though I had no sons of my own (and still don’t). Over the next 25 years as a scoutmaster, I believe that I did as much teaching in scouts as I did in school. I dedicate this column to my experience in this alternative education setting.

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Volume 11, Issue 3, Posted 1:36 PM, 03.01.2018

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.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, Posted 11:32 AM, 01.31.2018

Shop local. Learn local. Choose public.

We are fortunate to have many locally owned businesses in our community. From grocery stores to bookstores, restaurants to beauty shops, there are many people invested in owning businesses in the Heights. My wife and I believe in supporting those independent businesses because, in many cases, the owners are people we know and trust. It’s also convenient to be able to walk to a nearby store instead of having to drive a distance away.

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Volume 11, Issue 1, Posted 1:57 PM, 01.02.2018

What it's like to teach in the new high school

I knew my way around the old high school extremely well. I grew up a few streets away and remember hitting tennis balls against one of the gym walls, which then led to climbing all over the roof of the building to retrieve the balls. One time I got stuck while exploring the roof of the high school and ended up climbing in an open window to a room on the third floor. My other exploits included the times my sister and I went through lockers after school was out for the summer to collect supplies for the following year. It was like a treasure hunt.

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Volume 10, Issue 12, Posted 11:14 AM, 11.30.2017

Balancing individual needs with state requirements is not easy

It seems to me there is a fundamental conflict between differentiating instruction for students and, at the same time, ensuring that all students are prepared to take the next big state test. How can teachers take a classroom full of students who might be grade levels apart and make sure that everything in the curriculum is taught and learned by all by a specific time?

I feel the same way about the pacing charts that are in use throughout the district. For example, all fifth-graders are expected to complete a particular unit at the same time. Lock-step learning makes little sense to me. Teachers end up skipping important information, or some students end up frustrated because they may need extra time to master a concept.

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Volume 10, Issue 11, Posted 2:22 PM, 11.01.2017

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.

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 1:52 PM, 09.29.2017

Needed: more students taking career technical classes

Summer is usually the time my wife and I do some work on our house. This summer we had to find someone to repair our brick stoop, a job we could not begin to tackle on our own.

When our mason quoted the job he had a helper, but when he arrived, he was working alone. He told us that he had trouble finding and keeping employees. Some prospective workers wanted set hours. In masonry you have to work when the weather conditions are good. Some of our mason’s other hires had walked off the job after a few days (or in one case at lunchtime) because the work was too hard. He ended up working alone, way behind, and frustrated by the lack of interest in learning an important trade. There are countless reports of similar shortages of skilled workers among many technical trades and professions.

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Volume 10, Issue 9, Posted 1:32 PM, 09.01.2017

Experiences are key to learning

This summer, my wife and I are taking our first vacation without kids in 23 years. We have been fortunate to have taken our daughters all around the world. They have experienced cities, mountains, oceans, museums, and more. Travel enables people to see the world in new and different ways, and provides background for new learning.

We also exposed them to whatever enriching things we could in the Cleveland area, visiting parks, museums, zoos, going to concerts and plays, music lessons, camps, and much more. Our daughters had every possible advantage and incorporated their varied experiences into their learning in and out of school. 

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Volume 10, Issue 8, Posted 1:56 PM, 08.01.2017

CH-UH BOE should be able to hear directly from all school stakeholders

What are boards of education elected to do? According to adopted policies, their primary purpose is make policies and to hire a superintendent of schools who will enforce them. I would agree with this statement, but would add that they are also elected to ensure that the interests, values and needs of the community they represent are being met in the operation of the schools.

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Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 12:08 PM, 06.29.2017

Staffing decisions should prioritize connections and stability

In April, without any public discussion, the CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) decided to privatize the before- and after-school programs. The primary reason was economic.

Before- and after-school care is not seen as the school district’s main mission. One could make the case that as long as families have access to before- and after-school care for their children, the district should not have to shoulder the burden of organizing, supervising, staffing and recruiting for the programs at each of our elementary schools.

I believe that discussion with the public prior to the board taking action could have helped determine if there could have been a better solution or confirm that the proposal was best.

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Volume 10, Issue 6, Posted 1:38 PM, 05.31.2017

Opinion: Short-term benefit shouldn't outweigh potential harm of Ohio Senate Bill 85

Bad legislation is still bad, even if it might benefit our school district’s short-term bottom line.

Ohio Senate Bill 85 (SB85) was introduced in late March to expand our state’s already bloated voucher system. School vouchers damage the public interest by allocating tax dollars to support families whose children were already slated to go to private or parochial schools. Supposedly, these children are being saved from the so-called “failing” public schools, but most parents of these children never intended to make use of public schools anyway.

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Volume 10, Issue 5, Posted 11:40 AM, 05.02.2017

Teachers union draws on parent input in contract negotiations

Last school year the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union conducted a listening project with various parent groups throughout our community. Our purpose was to find out what parents like about their child’s school as well as what they believe needs to be changed. In March 2016, I reported out some of our findings in the Heights Observer.

In preparing for contract negotiations last spring, the concerns we heard from parents were fresh in our minds. The first union issue brought to the negotiating table was “How can we ensure the success of our partnerships with parents and the community?”

We advocated for a wrap-around services commission dedicated to coordinating supports that outside agencies offer in our schools. From our own knowledge and discussions with parents, we know that there are great things happening in all of our schools. However, sometimes a need exists that is not filled.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 7:11 PM, 03.30.2017