The Common Good

You can't dispose of public schools at a garage sale

The school building boom in Cleveland Heights took root in 1904 when the newly incorporated village of about 1,000 residents built Lee Road School on the site of the current Boulevard Elementary School.

As the orchards and farmland of this new village started to sprout streets full of apartment buildings and one- and two-family houses, the need for more schools grew. In 1914 a high school was built next to Lee Road School. By 1960, when the population of Cleveland Heights peaked at 61,813, the school district, which by then included University Heights and a strip of South Euclid, operated 10 elementary schools, four junior high schools, the current high school at Cedar and Lee Roads and an administration building. 

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Volume 6, Issue 10, Posted 3:29 PM, 10.01.2013

A 50th anniversary: a time to celebrate, reflect and recommit

I grew up reading the Green Sheet, the section of my daily newspaper that reported on what had happened on that date 10, 20 and 50 years ago. It helped me connect my reality to history. On a good day, that connection helped me understand the present and respect those who went before. It inspired both caution and hope.

This year, Taylor Branch, the author of an exhaustive history of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement—more than 2,300 pages written over 24 years—condensed that history into 180 pages, hoping people would use the 50th anniversary of the movement to pay attention, understand our history, honor the courageous fight and become prepared to continue the unfinished work of democracy.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 12:51 PM, 08.30.2013

We don't want to go back

John Lewis is my hero.  

His unwavering belief in the dignity of every human being has driven his life—a life focused on making our democracy more authentic, more inclusive. As a longtime civil rights activist, and a 27-year veteran of Congress, he exemplifies moral certainty and perseverance. At times he has put his life on the line to dismantle a violent, racist culture and to confront a frequently complicit government, in order to guarantee all citizens full citizenship, including full access to the vote.  

For Lewis, civil rights is about all of us. In his 1998 memoir, he recalled screening white college students volunteering to participate in Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. He reminded them: “Don’t come to Mississippi this summer to save the Mississippi Negro. Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one.”

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Volume 6, Issue 8, Posted 12:16 PM, 07.30.2013

We are the owners of our public places

If you live in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district as I do, we have something in common: We are co-owners of a lot of real estate—13 school buildings (11 currently in use), a stable and an office building, which together occupy more than 135 acres. School-district property is found in every corner of our community.  

This portfolio was amassed over the last 110 years to meet our high expectations for serving the educational needs of the children of our ever-evolving community. These buildings, as small-town Texas superintendent John Kuhn so eloquently put it, “are not just schools, they’re touchstones. They’re testaments to our local values—monuments to community.” They belong to us and we are responsible for their maintenance and quality.

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Volume 6, Issue 7, Posted 4:00 PM, 07.01.2013

Summer music camp: a time for enriched learning

In this era of test-driven accountability, school can feel like a pressure cooker. The demand for measurable results can dominate every second of the day—often at the expense of young learners exploring their interests, discovering their gifts, and enjoying the pure pleasure of learning.

Summer vacation is more important than ever as a time to recover and relax—and as a time for joyful learning. I’m happy to say that 90 local 10- to 15-year-olds will spend a week this month at the Heights Summer Music Camp, a community-run enrichment opportunity sponsored by Reaching Heights. I direct the camp and helped found it. It’s something I want to brag about because it is a unique music experience and an example of how our community nurtures our youth.

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Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 1:54 PM, 05.30.2013

Guatemalan women know what matters

The party invitation read, “How can you help send a child to school? It’s simple. Empower her Mom.”

Of course this caught my attention. The party was a benefit for Mercado Global, a nonprofit organization founded by Heights High graduate Ruth DeGolia, who has built a successful business that gives indigenous Guatemalan women financial stability. Mercado Global fosters women entrepreneurs and develops sales opportunities for the fashion accessories the women produce in their home-based workshops. It’s been a big success. Revive, on Lee Road, was an early outlet for these crafts, which are now also sold by national retailers including Nordstrom and Anthropologie.  

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Volume 6, Issue 5, Posted 1:38 PM, 04.30.2013

Why I lose sleep at night

Recently I interviewed nominees for the board of Parents for Public Schools, a national education organization. The final interview question was “What makes you lose sleep at night?”

My own answer to this seemingly odd question is this: I lose sleep worrying about the future of our public schools! The growing influence on state and federal education policy—and on the overall education narrative—of the advocates of testing, privatization, union-busting and budget-cutting scares me to death.

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Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 11:04 AM, 03.28.2013

Motivation theory and school reform

When teachers do their best, it is easier for their students to do the same. School reform that maximizes teacher engagement is a crucial ingredient of effective schools. 

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Volume 6, Issue 3, Posted 1:36 PM, 02.28.2013

Parent involvement starts with trust

One of the lessons of my career as a community activist is that when people trust each other they can accomplish amazing things. Because of this, it is a wise use of organizational resources to invest in building trust with the people who need to be on your team.

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Volume 6, Issue 2, Posted 12:09 PM, 01.31.2013

MLK’s precise words inspire action for the common good

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King, April 16, 1963, Birmingham, Ala.

Public spaces, especially those that honor the ideas and accomplishments of exceptional contributors to our democracy, have a big effect on me. So I wasn’t surprised to find myself almost vibrating with renewed determination and commitment to the common good after my first visit to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

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Volume 6, Issue 1, Posted 4:19 PM, 01.03.2013

Should we just say no?

It is report card season for Ohio’s public schools—not its children, but its schools. If Ohio Department of Education personnel can clear up faulty attendance reports from some school districts, public school parents will soon receive the official state report card for their school.

Last month, I reported on the preliminary report card for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools. As I wrote the sidebar explaining the four measurements that are combined to create a school district’s rating—a shorthand way to judge their effectiveness—I was struck by how convoluted the system really is. It looks thoughtful; but it is mathematical magic.

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Volume 5, Issue 12, Posted 3:35 PM, 11.30.2012

Campaign trail affirmations

I got started on the campaign trail in Cleveland Heights in early October. While knocking on doors is not my favorite activity, it is my civic duty. Despite my hesitation, something sweet kept happening, which made those moments of discomfort worthwhile. I encountered parents of children who went to school with my kids back in the 1980s and 90s at Boulevard, Monticello and Heights.

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Volume 5, Issue 11, Posted 2:45 PM, 10.30.2012

Apathy is the enemy

It’s election season and we need to pay attention.

Apathy is the enemy of democracy. It can allow unacceptable conditions to become accepted facts of life. By expressing our concerns through our actions as citizens and as voters, we decide which issues receive attention and if solutions serve the public’s interests. It’s our responsibility. It’s the central feature of a democratic government and society. It makes democracy work.

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Volume 5, Issue 10, Posted 1:40 PM, 10.03.2012

Teacher-driven assessment means authentic accountability

As an unapologetic reader of education reform literature, it’s a relief to find a book that is jargon-free, makes sense, and offers a feasible approach to making sure students learn. This summer I hit the jackpot with British educator Dylan Wiliam’s 2011 book, Embedded Formative Assessment. Doesn’t sound like much of a page-turner, but I couldn’t put it down!

Despite my allergic reaction to anything that has to do with testing students as a lever for school improvement, I found myself drawn to Wiliam’s emphasis on student assessment as a valuable tool for change. This author is all about good teaching and, if you ask me, his ideas give teachers an approach that works. I’m excited because these ideas are taking shape in classrooms in our school district and they have tremendous promise.

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Volume 5, Issue 9, Posted 9:57 AM, 09.03.2012

Music education creates determined learners: reflections on eight years of music camp

I have the privilege of organizing the Heights Summer Music Camp, a project of Reaching Heights. For each of the last eight years, it has given an average of 85 elementary and middle school music students from the CH-UH school district a week of intensive music exploration, instruction, and growth. We attract kids who have had years of private instruction, and those who have had just a year of group instruction in their elementary schools. About a third of the campers attend with scholarship support.

Each year, I have witnessed campers push themselves hard, have fun, and rise to high expectations. It is magical.

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Volume 5, Issue 8, Posted 5:32 PM, 08.06.2012

It's time to speak up about testing

Last month, after I walked the third graders from across the street to school for another day of testing, I came home to a welcomed invitation to sign a petition, modeled after a resolution supported by more than 360 Texas school boards, calling for the end of high stakes testing.

I’ve been waiting 10 years for the chance to speak up in an organized way on this issue. It finally came.

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Volume 5, Issue 6, Posted 11:26 AM, 05.30.2012

Citizen action is something to celebrate

In 1966, Painesville residents Diana and Ted Woodbridge started their search for a home closer to the city. As they looked for housing in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, the white couple was steered away from a neighborhood that had recently started to integrate—a distressing artifact of the days of legally sanctioned racial segregation. The experience began a life-changing journey that, five years later, produced a powerful resource for justice that endures today: Home Repair Resource Center (HRRC).

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Volume 5, Issue 5, Posted 10:38 AM, 05.02.2012

New budget threatens progress

Last year the Ohio Legislature adopted a budget that slashed public education funding and mandated an expensive, unfair and potentially damaging system for evaluating teachers. The legislature is not fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that all children achieve, yet it is ready to punish teachers if they don’t produce high test scores.  

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Volume 5, Issue 4, Posted 10:51 AM, 04.04.2012

What a surprise!

A familiar argument in the teacher blame game goes like this: Public schools have bad teachers because of unions. The implication of this statement is that unions don’t care about teacher quality, and school districts lack the tools and authority to effectively evaluate teachers and dismiss those who fall short.

A familiar complaint from teachers goes like this: Evaluation is superficial at best, and subjective or vindictive at worst.

Where is the truth? This question drove me to learn more about how the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District approaches teacher evaluation—something that is really important if you care about teacher quality.

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Volume 5, Issue 3, Posted 3:39 PM, 02.28.2012

No Child Left Behind disaster: when aspirations and reality collide

"All children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014."

This is the inspiring goal that drives No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 federal law designed to ignite success in public education by making teachers accountable for student learning. The law mandates yearly tests to measure whether schools are meeting their obligation to reach this goal, and expects that each year a larger share of students will prove their proficiency. Failure to meet the yearly improvement in test scores prompts punitive consequences for educators and schools.

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Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 3:35 PM, 10.07.2011

Garrett Morgan returns to enrich learning at Boulevard Elementary School

I’m a regular at Lake View Cemetery. It’s a grand place to walk, view nature and enjoy the seasons while experiencing Cleveland history. The headstones tell so much.

My route frequently passes by the grave of Garrett A. Morgan, the African-American inventor, philanthropist and publisher who is credited with more than 40 inventions, including the gas mask and traffic lights.  This spot is special. It’s a reminder of how empowering a great school project can be.

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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 12:03 PM, 08.02.2011

Blame is no substitute for constructive public policy

The blame game rarely works when it comes to finding good solutions to complex issues. One such issueis how to ensure that every child has access to an effective teacher.

There is little disagreement that effective teachers are the most important resource a school has for educating its children. The literature is full of evidence that the quality of the classroom teacher makes a huge difference to student learning, especially for children who have limited support at home. Creating a supply of effective teachers is a great way to improve student outcomes.

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Volume 4, Issue 7, Posted 10:39 AM, 07.05.2011

Support excellence, thank a teacher

Individuals can have a powerful effect on the quality of teaching in our public schools.

We can’t give educators the skills they need to be effective, but we can help motivate them to be their best. When we pay attention to their work, and let them know how valuable they are, it makes a difference. When they do well, tell them! It’s as easy as that.

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Volume 4, Issue 6, Posted 2:53 PM, 06.01.2011

How I woke up in Columbus

Before Senate Bill 5, I didn’t give much thought to collective bargaining, and preferred to ignore the Ohio Legislature. What a mistake!

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Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 1:19 PM, 05.03.2011

Dashboard gives quick view of school district direction

School districts are awash in data!

Data is part of the everyday life of the classroom teacher. It is guiding evidence for policy makers, and the primary lever for state and federal accountability. These days, data has become the coin of the realm for almost any discussion of how well schools are doing—an issue of paramount interest to the public, too.

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Volume 4, Issue 4, Posted 2:29 PM, 03.14.2011

Leveraging federal dollars for local impact

Federal programs are not far away abstractions; they affect people we know and places we care about, like Cleveland Heights. They empower people, alleviate problems, generate jobs and strengthen communities. These benefits could disappear way too soon as Congress, in the name of deficit reduction, prepares to decimate domestic spending.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 9:59 AM, 03.01.2011

Smart boards accelerate technology use in the classroom

“I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and I am comfortable with chalk. When I found the whiteboard in my room this fall, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it,” recalls Boulevard kindergarten teacher Belinda Farrow.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 10:31 AM, 03.01.2011

Why I'll be a school volunteer forever

Yesterday on my walk home from Boulevard Elementary School I ran into Hope (this is not her real name but it is what she represents to me), a first grader who I tutored last year as a Many Villages volunteer.

She was late for school, but when she spotted me, her worried face lit up and she opened her arms for a hug. As quickly as we met, we departed on our separate ways. Here was the reward for my work as a volunteer: the smile and affection of a lovely young girl who is facing many hardships in her daily life, and challenges in her search for academic success.

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Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 4:53 PM, 01.19.2011