Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education meeting highlights 10-5-2021
OCTOBER 5, 2021, regular meeting
- Public comments
- Student Cadre report
- Shared facilities update
- Joint boards and councils meeting
- Board comments
Present were President James Posch, Dan Heintz, Malia Lewis, Jodi Sourini, and Beverly Wright. Also present were Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby and Treasurer Scott Gainer. The meeting was called to order at 7 p.m. and was adjourned at 9:18 p.m.
Mr. Posch read the rules for public statements and called for any student to present first.
Ohio HB 322 and HB 327. Eleventh grader Kenji Sakaie said he testified before the Ohio Legislature on HB 322 and HB 327, which call for amending the Ohio Revised Code regarding the teaching of certain current events and concepts regarding race and sex in public schools and to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts. He said that public schools were created for the purpose of promoting free thinking and public citizenship and advocated that they continue to do so.
Open Doors Academy. Olivia Jacobs, seventh grader at Roxboro Middle School, described her experience attending the Open Doors Academy summer camp. She said she grew from being an introvert to an extrovert, has made friends, and isn’t shy anymore. She felt successful in Engineering Camp, building robot hands and rovers with help from the teacher and her friends. She thanked the board for the camp, for helping her grow, and for the opportunity to speak.
Lack of substitute teachers. Cleveland Heights Teachers Union President Karen Rego addressed difficulties due to the lack of substitute teachers. She wants the district leadership to present a plan of creative solutions. The union has sent a letter with suggestions to the board. Tiffiny Underhile, a union vice president, noted the lost time for planning and collaborative team meetings, as regular teachers are called to substitute. Tamar Gray, a union vice president, said that use of regular teachers as substitutes has also compromised “specials classes.” This practice compromises the students’ social and emotional welfare.
COVID impact on students. Betsy Race, school counselor at Boulevard, who has been teaching for 38 years, said nothing could have prepared her for the return to school while COVID was still occurring. The loss of parents to COVID and the social and emotional impact on students is having a huge effect. She asked the board to consider allocating ESSER funds to hire extra staff to assist teachers and staff in dealing with social and emotional learning for the students. She said every day she witnesses a real loss of how to learn in school and how to learn social skills.
A community member asked the board to present more information at the board meetings regarding COVID’s impact on students. She said she had submitted reports from community meetings that had not been addressed publicly at the board meetings. Ms. Kirby responded that she reads the monthly reports, responds, and acts on the issues at staff meetings and other venues. The community member said that was not sufficient. She desired public response to her reports at board meetings.
Concerns about board transparency. Maureen Lynn spoke on unsatisfactory responses to requests for invoices regarding board legal fees. Charles Drake claimed that the board was not transparent regarding an incident in which police were called to remove a trespasser and disperse students involved in a fight. He also demanded answers regarding an incident in which a student brought a gun to school.
Responses. Superintendent Kirby acknowledged that students have experienced academic, social, and emotional learning loss. She plans to hire additional social workers. There is a need to work as a community concerning these issues.
Ms. Kirby agreed that the substitute crisis is acute. More substitutes have been added; six have been hired, and the goal is to hire thirteen. These are full-time jobs with benefits. One substitute will be assigned to each elementary and middle school and two to the high school. The board agreed that hiring more substitutes is a positive move but will not solve the problem. Also, RENHILL (the company that provides subs) does not fill all the district’s requests.
Mr. Posch cautioned that ESSER funds are anticipated to fund additional tutors and social workers. Using ESSER money for substitutes was not part of the plan. He suggested a quick financial analysis if more teacher and staff absenteeism is expected. He also expressed sincere appreciation for union members coming forward and providing suggestions. Mr. Heintz said the ESSER money is important, and the board had received clear instructions from community surveys on how the money should be spent.
The board and superintendent met with parents the evening of October 4 to address the incidents of adults trespassing and a student bringing a weapon to school. Ms. Kirby stated the meeting allowed the parents to learn the details and explained how police quickly removed offenders from the building. She has met with Cleveland Heights leadership to partner with the school and parents.
Superintendent Kirby recognized Taylor Evans, who received the GEAR UP student of the year award. The district was awarded a new GEAR UP grant that will provide $4.4 million in support services over seven years for district students. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally funded competitive grant. Ms. Kirby thanked Bob Swaggert for writing the grant.
Ms. Kirby recognized and expressed appreciation for staff in celebrating School Custodian Appreciation Day and National IT Professional Day. She also recognized Tiger Team Members for September.
Student Cadre report
Heights High students Dashara Turner, tenth grade, and Kenji Sakaie, eleventh grade, gave the Superintendent’s Student Cadre report, focusing on athletic team updates. The Heights Tennis Team won the Golden Racket award. Students in tenth and eleventh grades are preparing for the PSAT.
Shared facilities update
University Heights Mayor Brennan was present to discuss with the board the feasibility of placing a service garage and a bus depot for cooperative use on the Wiley Property. The University Heights city planning commission is considering options. Mayor Brennan noted that the need to update University Heights municipal facilities is being reviewed.
Ms. Wright requested clarification of University Heights’ plans for the Wiley site. Mayor Brennan responded that they are looking specifically at the site for service department use.
School board members commented that developing shared facilities would benefit taxpayers. On October 7, the board will submit drawings for the bus depot to the University Heights planning commission. The district’s facilities committee will also review this plan.
Joint boards and councils meeting
Plans are being made for a joint meeting in November with the school board, the city councils of Cleveland Heights and University Heights, and the Heights Libraries board to discuss regionalism because all have agreed to work together.
The board approved joining the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding for a second year. Ninety Ohio school systems have joined the coalition. The full text of the resolution is available on BoardDocs.
Superintendent Kirby said that the audit for communications with families ended in September; results will be analyzed and shared during a fall work session.
The district human resources department has been awarded a $70,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Education to support human capital strategies.
The Heights Schools Foundation created a new scholarship in memory of Warren Clayman ’54. Friends, family, and classmates donated $40,000.
Ms. Sourini asked whether COVID booster shots were being encouraged for the staff. Superintendent Kirby replied that she was waiting to hear back from Giant Eagle regarding the possibility of Saturday clinics at school sites.
Upcoming meetings include a work session held at the Wiley school building in the media center on October 28, 2021, at 6:30 p.m.
LWV Observer: Rosemarie Fairman.
Documents for all board meetings can be accessed from the Board of Education webpage: www.chuh.org/BoardofEducation.aspx. Go to “BoardDocs” in the menu; on BoardDocs go to “MEETINGS” in the top menu; click on “Agenda.” Board meetings are livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/CHUHSchools) and recorded for later viewing.