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. Cincinnati has been working for the last dozen years on creating partnerships that serve each [school] building’s unique needs. These coordinated efforts are called Community Learning Centers (CLC), or wrap-around services.

We listened to CLC coordinators, a board member, the president of the teachers union, and some of the partners who work in the schools, to learn how these learning centers have evolved in Cincinnati and how they have helped make public schools hubs for each community.

I was struck by how far along CH-UH is toward realizing the benefits of having CLCs. What we need to do is coordinate our efforts and be much more intentional about how we decide what services are needed and offered at our various school buildings.

Those of us who attended the Oct. 28 meeting will hold a debriefing in November, after this article is written. My hope is that we can start to have deep conversations about how CLCs would look in CH-UH. CLCs can include all sorts of different services, such as enrichment, tutoring, medical and eye exams, mental health professionals, adult classes and more. CH-UH has a few of these types of services, but tailoring the services to the needs of the building, and having someone at the building responsible for coordinating services, makes so much sense.

Many like-minded educators and community leaders around Ohio saw a need for a statewide CLC initiative. During this past legislative season, the Ohio Federation of Teachers helped craft and support the Community Learning Centers House Bill 70, which had widespread support and passed both chambers with amendments. During the conference committee meetings to find resolution between these two versions of the bill, there was a last-minute 60-page amendment added that allows for a state takeover of school systems deemed ineffective for a period of time—mostly based on test scores.

This is the basis of legal challenges for the state takeover of Youngstown City Schools in October. This is also the basis of the CH-UH Board of Education’s resolution against this egregious part of HB 70. How CLCs got lost in this amendment is beyond understanding. What started out as a bill that promised support in creating and refining services turned into something that school districts like ours, Youngstown’s, Lorain’s, and others that serve high-poverty populations, will fear—a loss of local control by a state that can barely run itself.

Members of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union will likely hold few of the potential positions in CLCs, but we are strong advocates of these types of services for our students and their families. We know that we will have a better chance of teaching students if other important aspects of their lives are supported. Try teaching a child to read when he has a dental infection, needs glasses, or has not eaten in several days. It just does not work. The concept of wrap-around services is an old one—the school is a hub of the community where families and community come together. Schools are community assets that should be accessible to more people for extended hours, offering a safe place, with a library, meeting rooms, a gymnasium, and other resources. It is time we back away from the narrow test-test-test focus that schools have had forced on them by an unreasonable “accountability” system, and broaden our reach to the whole child and family in building a stronger community.

Ari Klein

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.

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