Public schools are for all

A banner in front of Heights High reads “Public is for all!”

The proclamation is both an invitation and a reason to enroll.

A hallmark of our democracy is the guarantee of a free public education. Universal access to a publicly funded education expresses the equal value and rights of all children and appreciation for the relevance of education to self-governance. It serves the common good. Because a community benefits from the education of its children, public schools unite communities in common purpose. 

Education is enhanced by the presence of all those who live in a school district: The more, the merrier. The higher the participation rate, the stronger the community bonds. The more inclusive the school population, the greater the impact education has on uniting the community and building understanding among diverse neighbors.

But not every family takes advantage of the public system.

In July, eight members of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union participated in “Bring Our Children Back,” a project funded by the American Federation of Teachers to recruit school-district families to their neighborhood public schools. The team contacted 59 families who had either enrolled their kindergartners in, or transferred older children to, a charter school. It also included some homeschoolers.

The timing makes sense. According to the Ohio Department of Education, 401 students from the Heights enrolled in charter schools during 2020–21, the first significant increase after four years in which charter enrollment had hovered between 335 and 349 students.

Union president Karen Rego invited Lisa Husain and Yvonne Wallace to co-chair the campaign. Both live in the community. Husain, whose kids are students in the district, is a gifted-intervention specialist at Canterbury and Noble elementary schools. Wallace is a media ancillary at Noble and a 1981 graduate of Heights High. They have the conviction and the knowledge to make a compelling connection. As Husain explained, “I know firsthand how amazing the district is, and how dedicated the staff is to making sure every child has success.”

Together they recruited other staff, trained the team, worked on the scripts, organized the follow-up and analyzed the results. The school district supplied the target list and contact information.

The campaign included home visits, literature drops, phone calls and e-mails. The public-school promoters shared information about the district and invited families to reconsider their decision to go elsewhere. For Husain, regardless of the outcome, it was important to “promote our district and all that is offered to students who choose the Heights schools.” Having district staff take the message into the community also sent another important message: We care about our students and would love to have them back in our classrooms! 

The campaign leaders were pleased by the results. Several families had moved, but they were able to make a personal connection with 35 of the 59 target families. Team members felt that returning one student would make the outreach worthwhile. Fortunately, seven families committed to returning, and eight more were inclined to do so, while 11 declined. If all 15 families follow through, there will be 27 public school students enrolled in our district because of this project. The team plans to stay in touch with the families. 

The schools are at their best when they include everyone who is eligible. In the past, racially motivated fear drove flight, but today, with the rise of the ideological emphasis on “choice,” the threat is different. It’s about dismantling the public system.

I am grateful to the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union for organizing face-to-face encounters with parents. Personal connections take effort, but they also drive progress.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident siince 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights, and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. 

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Volume 14, Issue 9, Posted 10:05 AM, 09.02.2021