The Common Good

This partnership is real

This summer, 93 children, most of whom attend our public schools, registered to participate in the Heights Summer Music Camp. They spent seven hours a day, for a week, learning about and making music, pushing themselves, and responding to new challenges and high expectations. They worked hard, mastered new content, made new friends, learned about the joys of collaboration, and made music that bolstered their confidence, motivation and commitment.

I’ve been the camp’s director since it was started by the nonprofit Reaching Heights ( in 2005. I’m proud of our work and our contribution to instrumental music in our school district and in the lives of our children. This camp would not exist, however, if it were not for our exemplary partnership with the Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District. There is a lot of talk about partnerships, but this one is the real deal.

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Volume 17, Issue 7, Posted 7:51 AM, 06.26.2024

Fixing music: time, money and local priorities

Time and money are always scarce in public education. This scarcity constrains what is possible and forces everyone from the classroom to the superintendent to set priorities, often at the expense of what people value or what is effective.

This seems to be what is at play as Cleveland Heights-University Heights school leaders examine how to make music a higher priority for our school district and a bigger part of the school day.

Music cannot be an afterthought or considered a luxury if this part of the curriculum is to really support the learner. Like reading and math, music requires daily practice to gain mastery.

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Volume 17, Issue 6, Posted 8:58 AM, 05.29.2024

Let's celebrate our graduates

In May, another crop of Heights High seniors will collect their diplomas and complete their public-school careers. Watch for those golden “Class of ‘24” balloons decorating graduation parties, and yard signs proclaiming the homes of 2024 graduates.

It’s an exciting moment for the seniors and their families, and it should be for all of us in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. These are our kids, too. We helped make this moment possible, and we welcome our newest voters and citizens.

While they did the work and the learning, we are the ones who benefit. This has always been the thinking behind our system of public education.

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Volume 17, Issue 5, Posted 10:17 AM, 04.29.2024

Teachers embrace honest history

Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love, falls in the middle of Black History Month. This year I got to spend part of it with fourth-graders at Boulevard Elementary, talking about the civil rights movement in Cleveland Heights.

There couldn’t have been a better day to talk about the courage, values and tenacity of citizens who, in the 1960s, challenged the hate-induced housing practices that made our community one of the all-white communities in a countywide and nationwide sea of segregation. Residents transformed our community into an integrated stronghold of activism, demonstrating that, when people work together, they can confront overwhelming odds and make a difference.

The invitation to speak came after Julie Walker heard my civil rights history presentation at a session of FutureHeights’ leadership-development program.

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Volume 17, Issue 4, Posted 11:11 AM, 03.28.2024

Great process! Will solutions follow?

On June 24, 1995, more than 100 alumni of the Heights High instrumental-music program and 75 former vocal-music students met at Cain Park to perform in Reaching Notable Heights. The concert was a fundraiser for the relatively new nonprofit organization that I directed at that time, Reaching Heights.

The concert exemplified the power of music to celebrate public education and unite the community in support of its schools, and it also uncovered the loyalty that our district’s music program inspires in its graduates—even 50 years later in some cases.

These alums were glad to travel from as far away as California, at their own expense, to perform for their hometown in support of music in the public schools. Many had never attended a class reunion, but a music reunion was another story. They were paying back the community—big time!

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Volume 17, Issue 3, Posted 2:59 PM, 02.28.2024

Shore up democracy by defending public education

I started writing this column on the anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. On Jan. 6 three years ago, I watched in disbelief as the violence unfolded, and I am still terrified. What would our lives be like if our democratic structures and institutions, including our system of public education, were to disappear or ossify?

This possibility is increasing in Ohio, where state lawmakers have gradually backed away from the strict conditions that define how to spend public funds on K-12 education. They have replaced a steadfast commitment to the common good, to public education, with a commitment to individual choice.

Every state constitution includes a requirement for the state to fund a system of public education. The constitutional commitment codifies that the public interest is served when state resources are used to educate our youth in schools that include everyone and provide comparable opportunities regardless of their location. Public schools must be nonsectarian, free and available everywhere, and accountable to the public.

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Volume 17, Issue 2, Posted 4:40 PM, 01.30.2024

Every minute counts

When I first noticed the yard sign by Boulevard Elementary School that reads “Every minute counts,” it resonated with me. I am in my eighth decade of life, and my husband is in his ninth. I want to make the most of every minute I’ve got!

A few weeks later, at a meeting that included Boulevard’s social worker, Caryl Yoo, I discovered that the sign is part of a districtwide campaign to increase student attendance. Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby coined the phrase and used it while communicating district goals to staff at the start of the school year.

At Boulevard, encouraging attendance is a schoolwide project that starts with creating a school climate that is “. . . safe, caring and inviting—a place children want to be and a place where families are proud to send their children,” said Yoo.

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Volume 17, Issue 1, Posted 11:30 AM, 12.28.2023

Science of reading informs reading education

Lift your arm and reach for an imaginary apple. Bring it to your mouth and make a slurping sound as you take a bite. Then quietly utter the short “a” sound, followed by the word “apple.”

This is one of 26 hand motion-sound prompts that literacy volunteers like me have been sharing with kindergartners at Boulevard Elementary School for the last 15 years. This practice builds what is known as phonemic awareness, and it is an essential first step on the path to becoming a reader. Understanding symbolic language is no simple task, but its mastery is key to the treasures of the written word. And mastery takes work and time.

Repetition is key to building the neuropathways that pay off in reading.

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Volume 16, Issue 12, Posted 3:11 PM, 11.29.2023

A reset for EdChoice vouchers

In September the Ohio Department of Education issued the annual “report cards” that are supposed to inform the public about the relative success of each public school district. Private schools, though they receive public funds, are not graded.

Thanks to our teachers and students, our district had plenty of good news. One significant change is that no Cleveland Heights-University Heights school carries the unfair designation of “failing,” the status that triggers access to performance-based EdChoice vouchers.

This change of status means the state will not award any new performance-based EdChoice vouchers in our school district this year.

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Volume 16, Issue 11, Posted 11:14 AM, 10.30.2023

Budget victory doesn't guarantee public school funding

Public schools in Ohio are funded by the state and with local resources raised from voter-approved tax levies. For nearly three decades this important state-local partnership has been out of whack. The legislature has not held up its end of the deal—it is underfunding the public system, forcing increases in property taxes and making private education a funding priority. Public schools and private schools are in the same line item in the state budget and are in direct competition for public funds.

Fortunately, public education scored a victory in the state biennial budget that took effect on July 1. Lawmakers retained the Fair School Funding Plan, a cost-based approach to defining state spending needs, and increased its investment in the plan by about $1.6 billion over two years. If they make the same investment in the next budget, school funding could finally pass constitutional muster.

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Volume 16, Issue 10, Posted 10:16 AM, 09.29.2023

Heights voters make me proud

I recently used this column to beseech readers not to sit out the Aug. 8 special election. Proponents of Issue 1, a constitutional amendment that would have made it more difficult to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot and then to pass it, hoped to sneak the noxious initiative through during a low-turnout summer election.

Cleveland Heights and University Heights voters, and others across the state, went to the polls in large numbers and defeated a bad idea. Nearly 19,000 Heights residents cast ballots.

I can’t resist data. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website reports turnout numbers and the percentage of yes and no votes for every precinct. My dive into the data gave me a wonderful lift. Voters in the Heights came through big time and showed what democracy-loving towns we are.

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Volume 16, Issue 9, Posted 11:47 AM, 09.02.2023

We have great kids in our community

Summer has a way of flying by. The 2023–2024 school year will begin in Cleveland Heights–University Heights on Aug. 23, and, as we anticipate this annual back-to-school transition, I want to brag about our kids and reassure my fellow citizens that investing in our young people is worth it! We have great kids and we have a lot to learn from them and give to them.

Like most senior citizens and residents of our community, I don’t have a lot of everyday contact with young people. As director of the Reaching Heights-sponsored Heights Summer Music Camp, though, I have spent a week every summer since 2005 surrounded by adolescents. This summer I witnessed the interactions and musical development of 75 Heights students who had just completed fifth- through eighth-grade in our public schools, 27 Heights High teenaged musicians, two college student alums of the Heights music program, and 18 amazing music professionals.

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Volume 16, Issue 8, Posted 3:06 PM, 07.31.2023

Only you can protect direct democracy: Vote on Aug. 8

Can Cleveland Heights and University Heights withstand the shift in culture and values—and the outright rejection of democratic principles—supported by state lawmakers who are determined to re-impose pre-Civil War thinking on our lives?

I am not exaggerating here. I am a law-abiding citizen, but what do you do when lawmakers reject the Constitution by making publicly funded religious education an entitlement and ignore the desired outcome of higher education?

It’s terrifying to see the overreach by state government into the operation of local institutions and the private lives of residents. Republican legislators have long been the opponents of big government, but they are now using their elected positions and unchecked power as a hammer to determine what’s allowed in environments where it’s none of their business.

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Volume 16, Issue 7, Posted 4:40 PM, 06.29.2023

The common good on display

On April 28 the Cleveland Orchestra was performing works by Anton Dvorak, one of my favorite composers. On that same night, a combined performance by the Heights High Symphony and Symphonic Winds had “Feeling Good” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” on their playlist.

Heights High and Severance Hall are equidistant from where I live, and both are luxurious spaces. I chose the Spring Finale Concert at Heights.

I’m never disappointed by these concerts. Music directors Daniel Heim and Nicholas Marzuola crafted a creative program, and the students looked like they were having fun. They played with confidence and ease. A vocal performance by Libby Warren was magic, and Micah Belcher’s senior solo on trombone was skilled.

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Volume 16, Issue 6, Posted 8:52 AM, 06.01.2023

EdChoice not a choice next year

I remember waiting for the classroom assignments for my kids to be posted on the front door at Boulevard Elementary the week before school opened. This was part of creating excitement for the upcoming school year.

Now I watch for the EdChoice “designation list” to be posted on the Ohio Department of Education website. This list names the public schools that the legislature has characterized as failing, and determines where the state can award performance-based vouchers. Vouchers are publicly funded scholarships to private schools.

I am pleased to report that the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District is not among the 57 districts where new EdChoice vouchers will be authorized for the 2023–24 school year.

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Volume 16, Issue 5, Posted 1:32 PM, 05.01.2023

HCC legacy can guide us

In February 1972, community activist Doris Allen called a community meeting after a fight at our newly integrating high school injured several students, including her son. At the meeting, Superintendent David Moberly asked the community for help. “Schools can’t fight racism alone,” he said. By naming the problem as racism and calling for a community remedy, Moberly prompted a dozen Catholic and Jewish activists to join with Heights High principal James O’Toole to organize. Their solution was to create the Heights Community Congress (HCC).

HCC was incorporated on Jan. 1, 1973. After 50 years of groundbreaking activism, it closed its doors on March 1, leaving behind a substantial legacy.

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Volume 16, Issue 4, Posted 10:31 AM, 04.02.2023

Health and learning go together

When the polio epidemic swept the nation in 1956, I was 9 years old. This disease left one of my friends partially paralyzed, and a family friend died from it. My mom kept my sisters and me out of public places; we spent the summer at home. Swimming at the beach was off limits, and she thought dimming the lights would help protect us.

Then came the Salk vaccine. I remember standing in line in the cafeteria of my neighborhood elementary school in Madison, Wis., waiting for the shot that would quell the spread of the deadly disease and liberate us from our confinement. My sister said her best friend fainted awaiting her turn.

What better place than a school to deliver essential medical care to a whole neighborhood? It made perfect sense then, and it makes sense now.

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Volume 16, Issue 3, Posted 10:50 AM, 02.28.2023

Funds support COVID recovery in schools

Inadequate school funding is an old and tragic story in Ohio. Those who defend this reality like to say money doesn’t matter, but the federal government has a different view. In 2021 Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and granted $130 billion in Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to states and school districts to help students “recover, succeed and thrive.”

Ohio received $4.475 billion to award to local school districts. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District received $17.1 million to spend by September 2024. That’s equivalent to about $1,200 a year per student, for three years.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 11:46 AM, 01.31.2023

Can our schools survive the legislature?

At the beginning of a year, I like to look forward with hope and resolve. However, as a public-school advocate who believes in the value of every child and the essential role of public education in our democracy, I feel dread, not hope, as I anticipate 2023.

We will have new elected officials representing us in Columbus, and they will have to contend with whatever the supermajority in the Ohio legislature has up its sleeve in terms of further weakening our public schools, privatizing education, centralizing power, limiting student rights, maligning educators and censoring classrooms.

None of this is good for kids, our communities, or democracy, but the legislature appears hell-bent on destruction. We must live with the consequences of what they have done and prepare for the next attack. As the year begins, single-party rule in all echelons of state government moves from theoretical to real. What options do we have for protecting our values when those with power have different ideas?

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Volume 16, Issue 1, Posted 10:19 AM, 01.02.2023

National leader urges collaboration

On Nov. 1, I attended a meeting of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Weingarten leads a union of 1.7 million professionals working in 3,000 organizations, including the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union AFT Local 795.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I was happy to attend. It isn’t often that a person with as much power, status and responsibility as Weingarten invites you to spend time with her and treats you as a valued and wise partner, but that is exactly what she did.

In our gerrymandered state it is very easy to feel powerless to affect policy.

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Volume 15, Issue 12, Posted 1:44 PM, 11.30.2022

State report card inadequate as quality measure

In September, the Ohio Department of Education issued its annual report cards for each school in the state’s 610 districts. The reports are based on state-mandated tests taken last spring by students in grades 3–12. Calling these annual data dumps a report card is a stretch; that would suggest depth, thought about the complex components of quality education, and qualitative, as well as quantitative, information.

A summary of results for the Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District is posted on the district’s website ( under the headline “District makes strides in closing education gaps.” According to last year’s test data, several of our schools have done a great job reducing test performance differences among children by race, income and other categories. That’s something to be proud of when your goal is equity.

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Volume 15, Issue 11, Posted 10:20 AM, 11.01.2022

Cumberland Pool is good for Cleveland Heights

Labor Day always marks the end of the swimming season at Cumberland Pool. It’s a disappointing moment for me and the rest of the swimming crowd. I’ve spent as much time as possible at this community treasure during the last 40 summers. It is where we get to hang out together and encounter friends and strangers who share our interests. This is a public space, and the public uses it!

I love the sounds of splashing water, youthful horsing around, and quiet conversations. It’s the best place to cool off, exercise, watch the clouds and feel like I’m part of our community.

You can enjoy the pool at every stage of life. Little kids cool off, play and learn to swim—a life skill.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 10:56 AM, 10.01.2022

Activists weigh in with court

Matt Huffman, majority leader of the Ohio Senate, is the architect and champion of privatizing education in Ohio. In an Aug. 15 New Yorker article about gerrymandering, he is quoted as saying that gerrymandering means “We can kind of do what we want.” And they have. Under his leadership, investment in public education has lagged, while spending on private-school vouchers has exploded.

Stymied by the legislature’s lack of concern for public education—the system that serves 90 percent of Ohio children—a coalition of school districts turned to the state courts to protect public education, a state obligation set out in the state constitution.

On Jan. 4, more than 100 school districts filed suit against the state of Ohio, challenging the constitutionality of using public funds for private education.

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 11:42 AM, 08.31.2022

Kids give us what we need

June 18 was magic. When the Heights Summer Music Camp Orchestra performed its final piece on the stage at Heights High that day, the audience—family and friends, district leaders, music advocates and longtime supporters of the Heights music program—erupted with a standing ovation. People were blown away by the music and by the young people taking their bows.

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, this was a restart for the camp. We were starting from scratch. Only eight people who attended the camp as fifth-graders a few years ago were eligible to attend when we reopened. Everyone else was new to the experience. We were thrilled to enroll 71 campers.

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Volume 15, Issue 8, Posted 10:20 AM, 07.29.2022

Legislating denial won't change reality

Denial is the act of declaring something to be untrue. Sadly, we have lawmakers who want to deny the existence of racism. This kind of denial amounts to lying. It inflicts pain on those whose lives are being denied, and makes the denier untrustworthy. 

Denial also has a psychological definition: self-protection from uncomfortable truths. For many of us living with painful experiences and loss, denial is useful. It allows us to go about our lives with a semblance of normalcy. On the other hand, explicit recognition of painful emotions can produce healing and a chance to move forward—an affirmation of our agency and humanity. 

I find it outrageous that state Reps. Mike Loychick (R-Bazetta) and Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) have introduced legislation that would supposedly protect us from the painful historical and current reality that racism, sexism, homophobia, hate and structural inequality exist. Their solution: bury these topics from view.

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Volume 15, Issue 6, Posted 2:44 PM, 05.27.2022

Time to give Career Tech its due

“College is not the only way to become independent, employed and engaged,” said Malia Lewis, president of the Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District Board of Education (BOE), and a longtime advocate for a strong Career Technical Education (CTE) program 

Since the early 1980s, when high-paying manufacturing jobs started to disappear, there has been a national movement to replace vocational education—the old “manual-training” option for high school students who were not seen as “college material”—with something more relevant to success in a high-tech workplace.

The advantages of the new approaches to CTE instruction are still not widely understood.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 11:19 AM, 04.29.2022

Heights High makes progress on equity

It’s a new semester at Cleveland Heights High School, and enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses is holding strong. In 2015, there were 182 students who took one or more of the school’s 21 AP courses—about 12 percent of all students. This semester, 335 students signed up for at least one of the 23 courses now available. They account for about 24 percent of the 1,400 students who attend high school at the corner of Cedar and Lee roads.

According to Interim Administrative Principal Alisa McKinnie, while the COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive to much that feels normal at Heights, enrollment in these rigorous courses continues to grow, and students continue to achieve. Numbers are up, and performance levels are impressive.

The College Board designs the courses and trains and certifies the teachers who lead them. It also writes an end-of-course exam that is used nationwide. While taking the exam is optional in some districts, it is required in ours.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 11:28 AM, 02.28.2022

Can litigation save the common good?

Lawsuits take time and money. They can feel like a longshot, and sometimes a clear solution can be elusive. A moral victory does not always change things.

But the political process is also time-consuming, costly and unreliable. State lawmakers openly flout the Ohio Constitution. When an issue like the proper use of state funds is consequential, the legal route is worth the effort.

On Jan. 4, more than 25 years after the state created its first program using public funds to pay private-school tuition, a coalition of 100 school districts filed suit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s EdChoice program. The legislature made vouchers widely available in 2005 when it created EdChoice, one of Ohio's five voucher programs.

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Volume 15, Issue 2, Posted 9:46 AM, 02.01.2022

Local leaders can bolster trust in government

The election is over. As 2022 begins, the victors will be sworn in and take up the work of the people.

I am grateful to all of the candidates for wanting to serve, and to those who will take on the important responsibility of using the tools of government to contribute to the health and well-being of the communities of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

This feels like a really important moment for local government. According to the Pew Research Center, public trust in government is eroding nationwide, and has been since 2007. Local government, however, is seen as the most trustworthy.

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 11:13 AM, 01.01.2022

State leaders reject equity; we must not

Meryl Johnson represents District 11 on Ohio’s State Board of Education. Her district covers 24 school districts, including ours, in Cuyahoga and Lake counties. Johnson, a retired 40-year public school teacher, is a visible and determined advocate for children, equity, public education and the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District (CH-UH).

“I ran for the state board to make a difference. I wanted to make it more possible for children of color to have the same opportunities as white children,” said Johnson. She is in the first year of her second term on the board, which has 11 elected and eight appointed members.

The state board oversees the implementation of education policy in Ohio. During Johnson’s tenure, members adopted a five-year strategic plan to lift aspirations and to promote high-quality education practices throughout the state.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:02 PM, 12.01.2021

Mapmakers fail to share power

Road maps guide our travel. Legislative-district maps allocate political power.

In September, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the ACLU of Ohio filed suit against the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) for failure to draw legislative maps that will provide the level of shared power required by the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Dec. 8.

In 2015, more than 70 percent of Ohio voters approved changes to the state constitution intended to make state government more representative of voters. One provision requires that “no general assembly district plan shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a political party.” Mapmakers are compelled to set boundaries for Ohio senate and house districts that are compact and competitive, not “cracked” or “packed.”

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:10 AM, 10.29.2021

Don't sit out the school board election

The November election could not be more important for the Heights community. The future direction of municipal government and the school district will be defined by whom we elect.

As a public school advocate, I am focused on the seven candidates who are running for three seats on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education.

They have vast differences in values, motivation, experience and priorities. There are stark contrasts in their styles, involvement with our schools, and commitment to public education. There are real choices to be made that will affect student experiences and our community’s identity.

Please get informed about this lineup and then vote on Nov. 2. We have a significant opportunity to shape our collective future and reaffirm our commitment to the common good.

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Volume 14, Issue 10, Posted 11:39 AM, 10.01.2021

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.

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

Vigilance needed to make victory certain

In June the Ohio House passed the two-year state budget with a vote of 82–13, and the Senate followed, 32–1. The budget includes a new school-funding formula, two years of partial funding, and the end of deduction funding, which diverts state aid from public school districts to voucher programs and charter schools.

These were gratifying victories for public education, democracy, and the Cleveland Heights–University Heights (CH-UH) City School District. They will make the funding system fair and predictable, and, when fully funded, adequate and equitable.

After the Fair School Funding Plan was approved, statehouse allies recognized the effectiveness of advocacy by the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters: Authentic testimony submitted by many, a constant stream of letters, e-mails, phone conversations and postcards, and pointed opinion pieces and letters to the editor added up.

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Volume 14, Issue 8, Posted 3:10 PM, 07.30.2021

Thank you, Heights teachers

This column is dedicated to the 19 Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District professionals who retired at the end of this school year. Our retirees, 18 teachers and one counselor, have spent between 16 and 45 years in the district, collectively providing more than 450 years of service to our community!

I am deeply grateful to each of them for their long-term investment in our schools and our community. Because teaching skills are perfected through practice, none of our retiring teachers arrived fully prepared, but all of them depart with invaluable expertise, relationships, and institutional knowledge. It will take time for those who replace them to catch up.

While I have had public school teachers in my family (my sister taught in Chicago and my grandmother taught in a one-room school in Iowa), my respect for this profession comes from what I have witnessed in our school district, often from this year's retirees.

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Volume 14, Issue 7, Posted 3:32 PM, 07.01.2021

Heights pilgrims advocate for our community

On May 4, Elizabeth Kirby, CH-UH schools superintendent, made another pilgrimage to Columbus to urge the Ohio Legislature to improve the state’s investment in public education, and to directly fund vouchers and charter schools. The current funding of education choice has resulted in deep cuts in programs and personnel in the Heights schools, a steep increase in local taxes, and plenty of tension and anger as state policy puts the future attractiveness of our unique community in doubt.

Heights Coalition for Public Education members Robin Koslen, Toni Thayer and Joan Spoerl, along with Jayne Geneva, a longtime member of the district’s lay finance committee, also spoke before the Senate’s primary and secondary education committee, during hearings on the state’s biennial budget. The Legislature must approve an operating budget by June 30, and fixing school funding is a big-ticket item in the budget.

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Volume 14, Issue 6, Posted 10:27 AM, 05.27.2021

Become a crusader for democracy

I have been writing this column for more than six years. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, repeatedly showcasing the ways in which our community suffers from state laws that inappropriately use tests to define our public schools—and our children—as failures; state laws that take resources appropriated for public school children to pay for private education; and state laws that shift a disproportionate share of the cost of funding public education to local taxpayers, while the state cuts taxes and disinvests.

All of these policies undermine the quality of education available to our youth, increase friction among the stakeholders in the education community, create hostility among neighbors and toward school leaders, make our community less competitive, and weaken our system of public education.

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Volume 14, Issue 5, Posted 10:29 AM, 04.30.2021

Can the Ohio Constitution save public education?

“Two hundred years ago our Founding Fathers gave us two gifts. Both were relatively unknown in the world. The first was democracy. The second was public education. These gifts were inextricably intertwined.” So begins Derek Black’s book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, the focus of a March 10 discussion sponsored by the Heights Coalition for Public Education. More than 75 participants joined the first session of a three-part conversation. 

Black, a constitutional-law scholar at the University of South Carolina, public school advocate, and unapologetic defender of democracy, kicked off the evening. He explained that he set out to write about testing and privatization, but soon realized he needed to take a step back and look at the relevance of education in our history and in our democracy. He likened undermining public education to attacking voting rights. As Black put it, this “is not about policies, it is about our values.” 

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Volume 14, Issue 4, Posted 10:11 AM, 04.01.2021

State legislature again defeats school-funding equity

It is hard to imagine that any school community has fought with more fervor to end EdChoice than Cleveland Heights and University Heights. EdChoice is the state program that transfers state aid from local school districts to pay for private-school vouchers, a scheme known as “deduction funding.”

The Heights Coalition for Public Education has put the state’s war on public education on the local agenda and fostered understanding of the damaging effects of state policy on local communities—especially ours.

Forums, book discussions and research documenting the impact of this theft of public funds have helped people understand the issues and fight for remedies. Legislative resistance pushed our board of education to join a legal challenge to EdChoice.

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Volume 14, Issue 2, Posted 11:07 AM, 01.29.2021

School-funding pain must end

Have you ever lost your credit card and worried that a stranger was ringing up a big bill for you to pay? Fortunately, once you discover you have lost your card, you can cancel it and stop the theft. In most cases, the credit card company will cover the fraudulent expenditures assigned to your small piece of plastic.

Deduction funding, the way the state legislature funds private-school vouchers and charter schools, is like a community losing its credit card and then having the state legislature pick it up and use it to advance its agenda, without paying for it. The legislature has had a field day over the last decade, cutting taxes and looking good to voters, while simultaneously increasing education costs and slowly shifting more funding responsibility to local taxpayers and more blame to local boards of education.

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Volume 14, Issue 1, Posted 10:44 AM, 01.01.2021

Fair school funding could save the common good

My personal commitment to public education is grounded in the belief that all of us benefit from the education of our youth, and that’s why we invest public funds to provide for an education that is free and available to all. It is an expression of equality and interconnection. It has taken our society a long way and been fundamental to making democracy work. However, as I write this column while basking in beautiful fall sunlight, I fear that the common good may go the way of the dinosaur.

Well-funded think tanks and lobbyists, the secretary of education and the departing president, to name a few, have persistently championed individual rights over the social benefits of investing in the success of all. They encourage separation. They champion the use of public resources to advance religion, and, when it comes to education, they promote privatization over investing in strong public schools.

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Volume 13, Issue 12, Posted 10:34 AM, 12.01.2020

Organized advocacy is good for our community

I moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979, drawn by its racial integration and lively civic culture—good reasons to move to an aging first-ring suburb. Here, being an engaged citizen is not only essential; it is also rewarding.

Our community is no place to be passive. Our challenges are plenty: We must end state disinvestment in municipal government and public education, overcome the lasting fallout from the housing crisis, build a truly inclusive community, maintain a viable tax base, confront climate change and economic inequality and end the glorification of exurban living. The list goes on.

We are up against a lot. Unfiltered Internet complaints notwithstanding, we have plenty of people who look out for one another, engage in debate and problem-solving, seek to understand complex issues and participate in the political process. People want our community to be a good place to live.

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Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 6:19 PM, 11.01.2020

The common good is on the line

I was waiting for the light to change, and there in front of me was Cleveland Heights High School, the flagship of our public schools.

The school looked glorious in the late afternoon light—a grand building with history and a public purpose that is as substantial as its presence at Cedar and Lee roads. It is a concrete expression of how our community united to invest in the well-being of our young people, and yet, here we are in a tragic moment, shut out of our public space, isolated and unable to partake in the full power of education.

Public school kids are being home schooled with the aid of a computer screen and hardworking teachers who are trying to nurture and inspire from afar. It is foreign territory for everyone. I can’t get my head around how it works.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:42 PM, 09.30.2020

EdChoice vouchers institutionalize discrimination

John Lewis, the heroic advocate of nonviolence, beseeched us: “When you see something that is not right, you must say something.”

If you read this column regularly, you know I have not been silent about EdChoice vouchers, a state program that requires public school districts to pay for private-school vouchers out of the school district’s state funding. They are particularly damaging to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, which transfers more than 30 percent of its state aid to vouchers, the highest proportion in the state. It is this huge expense that led the school board to cut the district budget by $2 million this year and next, and to put a levy on the ballot in November.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 3:46 PM, 08.31.2020

Local control shouldn't mean going it alone

The 2020–21 school year in the Cleveland Heights–University Heights district is expected to begin Sept. 2. The year will be unlike any other, with back-to-school excitement being tempered by health-related worries. We know children learn best when they are with their teachers in person, and families need teachers to take over instruction, but will the benefits outweigh the risks?

Covid-19 will dominate daily life for now, but Superintendent Liz Kirby hopes this will be the only year the virus factors into when children are in school, how they get there, what they do each day, and how much contact they have with others. She is determined to keep students on track. They cannot afford to lose more learning time, but how do you operate when so much is unknown?

Education is a shared responsibility of the state legislature and local school districts. Sadly, when it comes to planning for education in a pandemic, the legislature punted.

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Volume 13, Issue 8, Posted 9:43 AM, 07.31.2020

Hard times for schools are here

For whatever reason, I weep at parades. Predictably, my tears began to flow as a police-led parade of public school teachers turned right off of Taylor Road onto Euclid Heights Boulevard, where I was cheering, at an acceptable distance, with seven Monticello Middle School students who missed their school and missed their teachers.

It was the last day of an eerie, remote, and separate two months of learning and teaching from home. The end of a school year is a moment to celebrate hard work, progress, relationships, trust, freedom, and the future. This year was different, more subdued, with an overlay of worry and uncertainty. But we did it nonetheless—from the safe distance of automobiles decked out with balloons, signs, pink flamingos, and the Heights tiger. 

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 1:38 PM, 07.01.2020

Voucher costs deepen inequality

I used some of my time during the stay-at-home order to take a deep dive into data about which school districts lose funds to EdChoice vouchers—a state program that requires certain school districts to pay for private-school vouchers out of the district’s state-aid allotment. My hours buried in the Ohio Department of Education website confirmed in breathtaking terms my suspicions about the unfair impact of this misuse of public funds.

The EdChoice voucher program is expensive, affects some districts a lot more than others, and fuels inequality in education funding and opportunities. Most of the children enrolled in the districts hardest hit by vouchers live in poverty and are racial minorities. How much longer can policymakers ignore that their diversion of public-school funding to support private education discriminates against our neediest students?

The CH-UH district is among the hardest hit by this threat to educational opportunity. It is among the 22 of Ohio’s 612 school districts that together carried 90 percent of all of this year’s EdChoice vouchers.

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Volume 13, Issue 6, Posted 11:00 AM, 06.02.2020

Vouchers during a pandemic

I am a slow learner. As both an optimist and defender of public education, I don’t want to give up the fight to ameliorate the destructive impact of voucher costs on public schools.

I keep thinking that if we just make more calls, share more facts, mobilize more people and explain the problem, lawmakers will do the right thing. Surely, they don’t want to foster disparity in educational opportunities or run our public schools into the ground.

The pandemic adds new urgency to this issue. We don’t know the extent of human and financial suffering that lies ahead, but we do know unemployment will continue to skyrocket, household income will fall, local and state tax revenue will decline, and new demands will be put on public resources.

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 11:37 AM, 04.30.2020

We are all interconnected

I am grateful to Cleveland Heights City Council for adopting Resolution 15-2020 at its Feb. 18 meeting. By approving the resolution, city leaders took a stand on school funding and vouchers—issues that have critical ramifications for the health and well-being of our community.

The resolution states, “This Council demands immediate financial relief be provided to all Ohio school districts impacted by EdChoice vouchers and that the state not deduct EdChoice payments from local school district funds.” It also calls for the legislature to remedy “its school funding system as ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court.” 

The resolution does not have enforcement powers, but it makes clear that current state policy has a negative local impact and that community leaders object. Silence is tacit agreement.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 4:15 PM, 04.02.2020

No time for despair

I’m a hopeful person. I believe deeply in democracy, and I am devoted to the contribution our public institutions, especially our public schools, make to society and human advancement. But lately I’ve felt a lot more despair than hope.

When it comes to lawmaking, Ohio legislators seem to prefer sneaking their pet ideas into closed-door budget negotiations. When it comes to education, the legislature has imposed policy after policy focused more on destroying our public schools than elevating them. The policies advance a narrative of failure, not success, and justify disinvestment and flight rather than support and participation 

This bleak landscape makes me weary. 

On Feb. 10, State Rep. John Patterson, a four-term Democrat from Ashtabula, spoke at a public forum at Heights High about bi-partisan legislation that he and his best friend, Lima Republican State Rep. Bob Cupp, have worked on for more than two years, to “get right” Ohio’s system for funding public schools.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:39 AM, 02.28.2020

State lawmakers created a problem for us

I became an activist in the era when bumper stickers were equivalent to a tweet. My car was a traveling billboard. The yard sign, another kind of short-form communication, still works for me. Forget social media. At election time I still clutter up my yard with these temporary message boards.

My basement is an archive of school-levy yard signs. I’ve lived in Cleveland Heights for more than 40 years, and levy campaigns are necessary every four to five. I’ve got a half a dozen signs to prove it.

I will be sporting a new sign by the time this column hits the streets, because public school students in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District need us to vote yes to fill the crater that vouchers have created in the district’s operating budget.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 11:46 AM, 02.01.2020

Let's make 2020 the year of the teacher

It’s a new year—2020. Let’s make it the year of the teacher!

Let’s put up banners at the top of Cedar Hill, up and down Lee and Coventry and all along Taylor and Noble roads, declaring our respect for teachers and our gratitude for their important work.

Students are deeply affected by these adults who, while not family, are intimately involved in their lives. Our community is also deeply affected by these professionals who work valiantly to realize our aspirations for our youth and to prepare them to be wise voters and leaders. While the rest of us are sequestered for the most part from other people’s children, teachers spend every day with the young people of our community. They are the front line of educational opportunity.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:16 AM, 01.03.2020

Celebrating community ownership of our public schools: Reaching Heights turns 30

My, how time flies!

It’s already been 30 years since an idea that was hatched on my deck became a reality. Fresh from a two-year examination of the best ways to support a successful, integrated school district, a half dozen public-school advocates, who shared a commitment to equity and excellence, created Reaching Heights.

This community-based organization—independent of district administration, the teachers’ union, and the Board of Education—was designed to stay out of elections and mobilize the community as a full partner in providing a quality education for its students. The mission also called for nurturing public appreciation and respect for the public schools.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:30 PM, 12.02.2019

I don't want to be first

Being number one is typically a coveted status, but not when it comes to ranking school districts by their unfunded voucher costs.

The Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District has the heartbreaking distinction of subsidizing vouchers at the largest dollar amount per student of any district in the state. Being number one is undercutting educational opportunities for public school students and putting pressure on our community to solve a school-funding crisis not of our making.

In fiscal year 2019, the 5,111 public school students in the CH-UH district lost $851 apiece so 1,300 other students could attend private schools.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 9:52 AM, 11.01.2019

New school year inspires renewed advocacy

Each year I have the good fortune of walking across the street on the first day of school to help launch my five neighbor children as they start a new school year. The ritual includes me standing with the kids for the first-day-of-school portrait.

It started 12 years ago when the oldest children, twins Adele and Patrick, started kindergarten. With three younger siblings, including another set of twins, it was a challenge for the family to get these new students to school. I became their walking buddy. For the next eight years, accompanying these five youngsters to elementary school was part of my morning routine.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:22 AM, 10.01.2019

Time to fix the voucher problem

In his 2003 book, Seeking Common Ground, Public Schools in a Diverse Society, education historian David Tyack observed that "government requires environmental impact statements for construction projects, but not student and teacher impact reports for educational reforms.” If only Ohio’s policymakers had done an impact study of their voucher laws.

Vouchers are eroding, rather than improving, education available to children of color and those who are enrolled in high-poverty school districts in Ohio. The use of public funds to pay for private schools is made worse by the payment method. Funds for three voucher programs are deducted from state aid to local school districts, often taking funds away from public school students.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:41 PM, 09.02.2019

Music camp promotes learning and growth

The struggle is real, and it is good.

This was the theme for the Heights Summer Music Camp held June 10–15 at Cleveland Heights High School. This was the 15th camp season and, like the other 14, it was a great week of exploration, growth, engagement and success.

Reaching Heights, our local community support organization for the Heights schools, sponsors the camp that provides fifth- through eighth-graders who are residents of the Heights school district with the chance to engage in an intense week of playing their instruments in chamber groups and an orchestra. They also explore music in choirs, jazz groups or ukulele ensembles, and they learn about musicianship.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 10:56 AM, 08.01.2019

Supporting strangers strengthens community

“We need to pay more attention to the good news,” observed Jaqueline Blockson at a reception honoring two college scholarship recipients. Community members had gathered at Forest Hill Church to offer financial and emotional support to students and express confidence in their capacity to navigate the future. It was affirming and hopeful.

Blockson, a wonderful ambassador to the community and advocate for Heights High students, is the point person for connecting community donors who want to provide college scholarships with the students who need them.

This year, Heights High graduating seniors received $96,000 in scholarships from 45 different scholarship funds. Blockson was the matchmaker that made it work.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:22 PM, 06.27.2019

Ohio LWV votes to reject high-stakes testing

Patience and perseverance have their rewards.

On May 12, at the annual policymaking meeting of the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWV Ohio), delegates from across the state unanimously approved a resolution declaring test-based accountability to be a misuse of standardized tests. Advocating for the end of using tests as a means of holding schools accountable is now part of the organization’s action agenda.

LWV Ohio, a nearly 100-year-old defender of democracy and advocate of sound public policy, has more than 30 chapters and 3,000 members.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 8:49 AM, 06.03.2019

School board rejects high-stakes testing

I am grateful to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education for taking a stand on high-stakes testing. At its March 19 meeting, the board unanimously approved a resolution titled “Time to Teach, Time to Learn,” which rejects “the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.”

For too long, public schools in Ohio have been tethered to a destructive judgment system that legislators said would ensure that all children succeed in school. This approach uses standardized tests to make consequential decisions that are supposed to motivate high achievement. The goal is admirable, but the strategy is misguided. High-stakes testing is a misuse of standardized tests.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:33 AM, 05.02.2019