Lively School Board meeting addresses school building plan and other matters
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2019) The November 19th Meeting of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) Board of Education held at East Tech High School included a protest by CMSD security personnel, testimonies about schools slated for closing or getting a reprieve from closing, and a vote on the latest version of the CMSD Long-Term School Building Plan.
Those attending the meeting were greeted outside the building by CMSD security and peace officers holding signs and passing out fliers and protesting low wages that they say were contributing to a reduction in the number of security personal and thus causing safety concerns in school buildings.
At the start of the meeting, the Board of Education called for a moment of silence for two CMSD alumni who recently passed away – Harrison Dillard, an East Tech graduate, and Norma Freeman, a graduate of John Adams.
CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon said Harrison Dillard, an Olympic champion, was the world’s fastest man in 1948 and the world’s best hurdler in 1952. Dillard also served as business manager for the Cleveland Board of Education for many years.
In memory of Norma Freeman, CEO Eric Gordon offered the school district’s condolences to Don Freeman who was present at the Board meeting. Gordon noted Norma Freeman’s long history of involvement with education in Cleveland which included teaching health education in the Cleveland City School District and the Cleveland Health Education Museum where she became Director of Curriculum Implementation. Gordon noted Norma Freeman’s involvement with the Cleveland Education Committee and the Committee for Social Justice. Norma Freeman and her husband, Don Freeman, have been a consistent presence at Cleveland Board of Education meetings for the past half century. CEO Gordon called Norma Freeman “a constant advocate for what’s right.”
The Board of Education proposed plan up for a vote that evening was passed in its entirety without any additional changes. The plan called for the consolidation of Clark and Walton schools into one school with a new school on the site of the current Clark School on Clark Avenue. The plan also calls for a new school for Marion Seltzer at W. 98th just north of Madison and the renovation of Gallagher School at W. 65th and Franklin. The plan calls for a new school for Lincoln West High School as well that will serve both the Lincoln West Global Studies and the Lincoln West Health and Science programs.
Under the plan, the Glenville campus will be used to consolidate MLK High School and Glenville High School programming. East Tech would be used as a campus to consolidate New Tech East, East Tech, Washington Park and Jane Addams programming. The John F. Kennedy campus would be used to consolidate new JFK programming with that of Whitney Young programming.
Four elementary schools would close on the East Side: Willow, Iowa-Maple, Michael R. White and Case. The Design Lab High School program would be phased out.
The district plan notes that there would be no change in a number of elementary schools that had been under discussion as for possible closing, rebuilding or new construction. Those elementary schools where there will be no change under the plan are: Kenneth Clement Boys Leadership Academy, Valley View Boys Leadership Academy, Tremont Montessori, Dike School of the Arts, Bolton, Denison, Charles A. Mooney, and Douglas MacArthur Girls Leadership Academy.
Collinwood High School was granted an additional year for neighborhood residents and stakeholders to come up with a plan that will attract more students to the school.
New Tech West’s teachers and students made a convincing argument at community meetings that the school should remain open because of its academic quality and the lack of options that would allow for the school to function in a different location. The final plan calls for New Tech West High School to remain in its current location.
While there are currently no funds to build or renovate any additional buildings, the plan notes that future funding, if it materializes, could be used for new, consolidated K-8 schools for Dike/Bolton and Denison/Mooney; and new school buildings for Tremont Montessori and Douglas MacArthur. A new high school for the Northeast side is also listed as a possible use for new funding.
In the public participation portion of the meeting a number of people spoke out about the CMSD’s plan for its school buildings. Ward 8 City Council Representative Michael Polensek thanked the Board of Education for the one-year reprieve granted to Collinwood High School. The initial plan presented by the administration to the school board called for Collinwood students to move to Glenville High School as part of a three-school merger.
Polensek while welcoming the reprieve, said one year was not enough. He called for at least two years be allowed for the community to work with the school district to develop new curriculum for Collinwood. He said there were 15 K-8 schools in the neighborhood, but students were not choosing to continue their education at Collinwood because of lack of programming. He said Collinwood is not working as a general-purpose high school. “There has to be something to attract students,” said Polensek.
Ward 12 City Council Representative Anthony Brancatelli made a passionate plea for the Cleveland Board of Education to keep Washington Park Environmental Academy open at its current location in Slavic Village. Brancatelli asked for five months for community leaders in the Slavic Village neighborhood to come up with a plan to keep the high school open as a specialty school. He said the school prepared students for jobs in animal care and environmental science and the school is more than 100% occupied with no vacant seats. Brancatelli submitted letters of support for the retooling of the school from leaders of Third Federal Savings and Loan, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, Slavic Village Development, University Settlement, and the Ohio Environmental Council.
Four students from Washington Park also pleaded with the Board of Education to keep their high school open in the Slavic Village neighborhood. The students said they surveyed fellow students and reported that a number of students said they would leave the district rather than move with the school to its new home at East Tech. The students reported that 42% of students reported concerns about safety in moving to East Tech.
Former City Council Representatives Jeff Johnson and Zach Reed also spoke to the Board about school closings and other matters. Johnson said, “East Side schools are dying because of your inability to compete with other schools. You have to do better. You have to do better than just how much it costs.”
There was a passionate plea to keep Iowa Maple open. Concerns were expressed about the lack of schools in Ward 7 due to schools closings.
James Pelikan spoke of the school board’s effort to balance between what citizens want and what is needed. He praised the board and administration for offering data at community meetings to support their decisions and for listening to residents’ concerns. Pelikan countered some of the arguments being made by City Council representatives and former council representatives that the school building plan favored the West Side of Cleveland. Pelikan noted that more new schools had previously been built on the East Side, and the district was catching up on the West Side. He also noted “neighborhoods have changed, and we have to make adjustments.”
In other matters a longtime school district volunteer called for an effort to get parents more involved by bringing back Parent Teacher Associations (PTA’s) to the schools.
There was a call for the end of tax abatements and Mayoral control of the school system.
A student from the Cleveland School of Architecture and Design spoke of being sexually assaulted at the school and the failure of administrators to allow for a safe environment at the school.
A parent of a Project Act student at Sunbeam school spoke of her daughter being upset about a failing grade she received and the degrading way the principal spoke to her when she requested extra credit work be sent home so her daughter could make up for the failure.
Don Freeman asked CEO Eric Gordon if he had followed up with Academic Superintendent Paul Hoover concerning a problem in the Redesign Schools where administrators in the schools were creating obstacles to Model Lead Teachers playing their intended role in implementing the redesign model. CEO Gordon promised to get back to Freeman with a response.