Investment school meeting offers a look at progress made and obstacles faced at Lincoln West High School

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, March 2014)

About sixty people gathered at a February 13th evening meeting at Lincoln West High School to receive a report on the status of the school in its second quarter as an Investment School. The crowd –of school staff, students, parents and community members– received a variety of statistical reports used as measures of how the school is doing this year.

Principal Dr. Irene G. Javier explained how students had improved their scores on a NWEA Benchmark Analysis that is generally a good predictor of how they will perform on the Ohio Graduation Tests. She pointed out progress in reading, math and science with the percentage of students showing proficiency increasing in all three subjects. While the increase in the percentage of students proficient in reading was only 1% from 46% to 47%; the percentage of students proficient in math and science went up significantly. The percentage of students proficient in math increased from 40% to 50% and the percentage of students indicating proficiency in science increased from 29% to 39%.  While they have made gains, they are still well below the state averages.

Principal Javier credited a new focus on teaching and learning strategies as having an impact on student outcomes. She says teachers in the building are able to share their strategies for teaching and learn from their peers. They are able to reflect on their teaching and work together, no longer teaching in isolation.

Lincoln West educators have been working with a nonprofit organization, New Tech Network, to implement an instructional model that involves using project based learning to integrate technology with instruction. The school has also received a federal grant to provide professional development for educators using the “global performance system” which helps to assess online student projects based on global standards of competence.

Dr. Javier said she expects that the opening of a MetroHealth Teen Health Clinic in a trailer outside the school in mid March will help to reduce student absenteeism at the school. She said the clinic staff will be able to help students with both social-emotional and physical health issues that at times lead to student absenteeism. Student attendance at Lincoln West declined in the second quarter of this school year from 81% in the first quarter to 77% in the second quarter. At the same time staff attendance has improved from 94.9% in the first quarter to 98.6% in the second quarter.

Dr. Javier said Lincoln West is working with students to increase attendance moving forward. Challenges this past quarter included the weather and that increased suspensions contributed to the absentee rate. She also noted that with the addition of 350 ninth grade students to the school, the school has a larger population this year.

Dr. Javier said Lincoln West now has twelve full time community partners helping with after-school programs and mentoring students. She said Esperanza is working with Lincoln West to hire the best site coordinator available to facilitate efforts of the community partners. Esperanza is the lead agency responsible for supervising the site coordinator.

Several Lincoln West students and one parent spoke about how much they liked the school. Student Russ Jackson said teachers at Lincoln West care a lot and take time out to help students. He praised the after-school tutoring available to help students to pass the Ohio Graduation Tests. Another student praised the number of after-school activities available. He said his involvement in the Junior ROTC program helped him to productively occupy his time.

Kamelia Premsook, a senior at Lincoln West, talked about how as a bilingual student she successfully learned English in the Cleveland Schools. She talked about her involvement with other students in forming the Health Care Affinity Committee at Lincoln West. She spoke of trip to Philadelphia where she made a presentation about the program at a conference. Premsook said she is the first one in her family to complete high school, and has been accepted at Cuyahoga Community College in the Pre-Medical Assistant Program. Another student talked about his involvement with the Lincoln West Swim Team, which placed 2nd in the City. A student talked about a trip planned for eight international studies students to travel to the Dominican Republic to deliver school supplies.

A parent, whose family came to Cleveland from Burundi, says he feels good about having two of his children attending Lincoln West because he knows it is a “good place.”

Community members also spoke out about Lincoln West. Retired Lincoln West teacher, Gene Tracy, pointed out the continued practice by the school district of closing enrollment at Rhodes and Marshall, leaving Lincoln West as the only comprehensive high school on the West Side to place students. He said often the students placed at schools after the school year is underway have been expelled from their schools for serious incidents. Noting the number of serious disciplinary incidents listed at Lincoln West, Tracy said it is unfair to place all those students in the fragile Lincoln West investment school. He urged the school district to end this unfair practice and split the incoming students between the three schools.

Tracy said that although Lincoln West was awarded $126,000 from the school district because of its status as an investment school, in actuality the school was only receiving $86,000 more this year than last year. He said last year the school was a recipient of a $40,000 School Improvement Grant, which it did not receive this year.

Tracy noted that a teacher-devised plan calling for more personnel to address attendance was shot down for lack of funding. He pointed out an infuriating problem with the heating system at Lincoln West with three controller units malfunctioning causing some rooms to have temperatures of 90° and others to be at 50°. Tracy said several special education students had passed out from the heat. He urged those present to call their council people to complain. (Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins was present at the meeting.) Tracy said he was told it would take about $24,000 to fix the heating system.

A teacher spoke about the hardship caused by having to move her classroom out in the hall or to the cafeteria because of the heat – and teaching without access to computers and classroom equipment. A community member spoke out about the promises made that the schools would be “warm, safe and dry”, when the district passed the bond issue in 2001.

Lincoln West Health Teacher Mark Julias advocated for a full time attendance liaison for just Lincoln West High School. He said currently the school shares a liaison with eleven other schools.

School District representative Michele Pomerantz said that under Student Based Budgeting the school could chose to purchase an attendance liaison. She said it would involve a trade off, “There is not a ton of more money to use in school budgets, what are you going to give up to get an attendance liaison?”

Editor’s Note: At a February 22nd Bond Accountability Committee Meeting held at the Carnegie West Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland Municipal School District’s Deputy Chief of Capital Projects Gary Sautter said the school board, after hearing from community members, had approved a $25,000 repair of the heating system at Lincoln West High School. He estimated the job would be complete in about a week. Sautter said the funds would either come from the general fund repair budget or from the Local Initiative Funds from the bond issue.

If the funds come from the bond issue, the state of Ohio will not match them. James Darr, administrator of the Bond Accountability Commission, said that when the initial bond issue passed in 2001 it appears that the state had committed to a two to one match for $25 million in “Warm, Safe and Dry” funds to repair school buildings. He said it appears that somewhere along the line the Cleveland Metropolitan School District turned down the “Warm, Safe and Dry” funds deciding to use them instead for building new buildings or substantially rehabbing existing buildings. So now when the school district does repairs that would have qualified for “Warm, Safe and Dry,” it does so without matching funds from the state. Darr said all the administrators that worked for the district at the time of the decision are gone now, so he doesn’t know why that decision was made.

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