Public education and citizenship
Public education creates citizens. A public education is the most powerful, positive and transformative relationship a person will have with any government activity. It is the beating heartbeat of every community. The public education heartbeat of Cleveland Heights and University Heights is weak. This weakness is not from a lack of money, inadequate buildings, or poor teaching. It weakened over years, the consequence of the community’s diverging perception of its reality with the reality of many students in CH-UH schools.
Put another way, tax dollars collected and spending per student do not match the community’s perceived reality of expected outcomes, state test scores, and other subjective and dubious evaluation criteria. We are in a spiraling trap without a way out; costs continue to rise and community ambivalence toward the schools increases. The perception has become “the schools are bad,” “we won’t send our children to Heights schools,” “we won’t move to Cleveland Heights,” “we are moving,” “we won’t vote for a tax levy.” Students still attend Heights schools; advance, graduate, go to college, enter the workforce—and too many don’t achieve their potential.
U.S. Department of Education and U.S Census data reports that more than 90 percent of all K–12 students attend public schools, and 5 percent of all public schools are charter schools supported with public education funds. In 2017 only 44 percent of children ages of 5–19 living in Cleveland Heights and University Heights attended a public school. We must ask ourselves, “Why the hugely significant disparity between national public school participation and CH-UH public school participation, and how can we increase the number who attend our schools?”
Change and improvement are possible. It starts with setting meaningful, achievable goals: Reach a 75 percent school participation rate in 10 years; increase the graduation rate; aim to have all students participate in extracurricular activities; establish yearly mentoring engagements; and more. To meet these goals the school district must lead—developing and implementing supplemental community-based programs; partnering with community groups and individuals, as program managers, tutors, mentors, or advisors working with students, individually or in groups. A modest number of such programs exist; we need more.
We are resource rich, but too few of our personal and institutional resources are engaged with CH-UH schools. Many churches and temples have outreach or social justice programs focused on education and families. They would be credible partners. They need to be asked! The city governments of Cleveland Heights and University Heights must be active partners in this program, creating a real partnership between the cities and the school system. The infrequent joint meetings are insufficient.
Open Doors Academy is an extraordinarily successful community-based school program. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church started Open Doors in the 1990s for Roxboro Middle School children, as a safe place to come after school. Open Doors grew and established a goal that every participant in the program graduate from Cleveland Heights High School. Open Doors is now a standalone organization with programs in other public school districts. To date, 100 percent of Open Doors students who have been in the program for the three middle school years graduated from high school, and many go on to college.
Open Doors is an example of how a community and a community institution, responding to a need, improved public education. Building a community of citizens through public education is a constant and continuous process. This is the time for the school district to lead: [by] bringing the community into the schools, and the schools to the community, we can get to work strengthening the heartbeat of our community. If you agree, contact Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby at 216-371-7171.
A 40-plus year resident of Cleveland Heights, Michael Knoblauch is a former board member of FutureHeights, sponsor of Citizens for Great Design, and father of three adult children who are graduates of Heights High.