Reader Reactions to “The Problem No One Talks About”

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity at the SEL Experience Project.  The articles written by Sally and Beth have opened up a lot of positive dialog.  The comments we received on social media were especially inspiring and motivating.  We wanted to share some of them here.  Best of all, no trolls had to be taken down to bring you this recap! This tells us that there is a strong foundation of support for our schools.  It’s our goal to take this spark and turn it into a roaring bonfire of community support for SEL Schools.  We can do it together!  Every conversation and interaction you have can help turn detractors into supporters.  Destination School Community?  Maybe not quite yet, but we’re getting there!

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“Dear Ms. Martin, Thank you for sharing such an honest and personal story. I’ve worked in service-learning at a local university and was deeply wounded by the perception embraced by many that schools with predominantly minority children was inferior, the children were inferior and the notion that minority children were synonymous with poverty, being unloved, and “ghetto”. It is many times difficult to break down those negative perceptions when you are a minority but I’m so glad you wrote this piece. Thank you.”

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“Proud mom of three Brush Graduates. My Son (a 2014 graduate) was very involved. He was in the. Brush Band, Jazz Band, Choir and Drama and AVID. He is an outstanding college student and works to better the city around his school (an economically struggling area). Brush provided many opportunities for my children.”

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Proud mom of two Brush graduates- it infuriated me when I heard derogatory, negative comments from ignorant people about the school. I have a nurse and a son about to graduate from JCU, by the way, thanks to Brush.”
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“Send your kids to our SEL schools!! There is no better way to support our schools and ensure the continued excellence of the educational experience for our community. Thank you Sally for your honesty and for setting an example. My daughter graduated from Brush and my grandchildren are flourishing at Memorial this year.”
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“Well written piece. Our children (a sophomore, 8th and 6th grader) are thriving in the SEL schools. In fact, I remember when we moved in 2011 FROM South Euclid TO ANOTHER house in South Euclid so many people were surprised that we didn’t make the jump to the Solons and Twinsburgs of the world. We stayed because we love the community and our kids are receiving a quality education.”
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“My oldest son has been in the district since kindergarten. He’s in 7th grade now. We did move for 2 years to mayfield but we decided to come back to south Euclid. My step daughter has been in this district since 4th grade and she is also in 7th. Our youngest will be going to kindergarten next year. We are very pleased with this district. My kids love going to school and love their school! They both are in honors classes and I believe are getting a great education. When at mayfield they got made fun of all the time. My son often asked if he could go back to Rowland. The kids here treat him so much better and he’s way happier. I love the teachers and everything about this district.”
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“As I’ve sat on the PTA scholarship committees for over 15 years and have interviewed the wonderful graduating seniors, I have consistently been impressed by the quality of students and opportunities available to them. One resounding and recurring theme is that the students appreciate the diversity that the district offers and how it prepares them to succeed and navigate the real world as they embark upon their post graduate pursuits.”
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“It is about time for this conversation to start.”
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“Excellent and honest article. I have seen this play out in many districts during the time I worked as as a real estate agent. I, too, live in South Euclid. I drive half an hour to take my kids to school in another district.
I would like to send them to SEL schools but I believed the naysayers.
I am open to giving them a try as my oldest boy approaches high school. But, before that happens I would like to spend a day at the school, observing classes in session.
Heights High had an open house for realtors back when their schools started experiencing the flight and it totally changed my perception of the school.”
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“Neighbors, I encourage you to visit the schools during the school day. Please don’t rely on here-say.”
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“I am so encouraged to see SEL families uniting! If those of us who believe in our schools actually speak up, a lot of the negative perceptions would be put to rest!! Visit our schools, talk to involved parents/community members and see for yourself.”
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“This is a great article and definitely needs to be printed in the Plain Dealer and on Cleveland. Com. We moved into the district in 2004 because of the diversity since we have mixed race kids. We loved it here and still do. I have noticed the lack of diversity in the schools and it saddens me. I assumed it was due to “white flight” as the inner city moved farther east but to hear the actual demographics of the city hasn’t actually changed much is alarming. When my daughters (now a senior and sophomore) were approaching Greenview age, I heard the rumors as well but we didn’t have the funds to choose a private school. Neither had any issues at Greenview or Memorial or even Brush other than normal teenage drama. It was all unfounded. To hear that white middle class parents aren’t even giving the schools a chance due to rumor is sad.”
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“Great read Sally Martin. Very well thought out and positioned. We live on one of the streets where many of us could have easily picked upped and moved to another community. Most of us conciously made the decision to stay in this district and have been so glad we did many times over. The thing that is somewhat troubling to me though, is I hear so many Brush graduates who are at the age of purchsing their first homes saying they would never think of buying here now. We need to somehow change that.”
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“Realtors, as well, need to stop insinuating that our schools are lacking.”
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“I love this article – I think we have good schools, even though my kids are grown, their kids attend SEL schools. My grandkids don’t see black and white – that is not a problem at all.”
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“My son goes to Brush and my daughter goes to Memorial. I wouldn’t think of sending them anywhere else!”
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“I completely relate to this. I have a whole story about buying a house in South Euclid and why we did and our experience with Adrian Elementary, Greenview, Memorial, and Brush. . I work in Mayfield with the public and i hear negative stuff about South Euclid and our schools way too often… it drives me crazy, and I am a very verbal and staunch supporter of South Euclid and our schools. Anytime, anywhere, for any reason, myself, my husband, and our children will always be ready and willing to speak up for our schools and community. .. i have so so much more to say about this subject!! “
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“This is an excellent article for a long overdue conversation on the issue. This is something that should be in the city magazine…verbatim.”
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“What is distressing is how little is said about our great Elementary Schools and the honors they’ve achieved. Multiple Governor’s awards as schools of promise, excellent state rankings that exceed that of our middle and high schools, and the dedicated teaching staff that have created an enriching and nourishing academic environment. While the focus had been on Memorial and Brush, the district and the community need to advance the successes at the lower elementary schools. It is there that we must capture student excitement for learning and create students that seek become successful not only today but tomorrow as well. My experience has shown me that working together for success breeds greater social interaction amongst cultures and benefits the community in innumerable ways. Thank you for your continued work with the South Euclid Experience Project and this thoughtful article.”
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“Well written piece. I appreciate your bringing this to the surface. My kids, too have had positive experiences in the schools yet I have seen a number of friends either avoid them all together and or flee to another suburb. Both boys (now 4th and 5th) have been in the district since K and have each had different and outstanding teachers almost every year.”
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“We moved to south euclid before our children started school. I personally have been bragging for years about the district. I have worked with inner city youth for years, and se-lynd schools are great. They are very organized and informative. The schools keep the parents involved, which is the reason I believe that any school system is successful. Honestly I chose this area based on its diversity. I regularly see children playing outside from all races. However when it is time for my kids to get on buses for school or walk I no longer see that. This articles explains the reasoning for that. My children have acquired many friends during the time that they have spent in the community. They go to these friends homes and they come to ours. I always wanted my children to experience the diversity that is closer to what the world looks like. I have two children at Brush, one at Greenview, and one at Adrian. We are also home owners. I guess it might have changed things for me too, if I had heard this story before I moved here. However since I have been able to see things first hand, I don’t see the schools as terrible, and its not because we are a low income family. simply because we are not. Lastly when we first purchased our home some of our neighbors came to introduce themselves to us. It made us feel good like maybe out of a movie! except for one family who is not happy we live near them. We dont even know why but we love the city, we love the schools, we love the community, the law enforcement, and firefighters. So maybe one day all our children can grow up together, we grow old together, and our city can continue to be a great place to live.”
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“Excellent article. We have 2 kids product of SEL schools, K-12, and have done well (a college graduate and one in college). I work at a local private University and can see SEL students compare with other districts and privates, and our students are on par or better in preparation and success (I figure a +90% graduation rate for SEL graduates).
In addition, the DIVERSITY our SEL students see prepare them for the future, which is becoming more diverse. This is highly important for our kids.”
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“I enjoyed the article very much. It’s too bad that Idaho can’t think of something like this to do in our state.”
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“I love the school district! I hear a lot of those rumors. I moved to south Euclid in 2009 since it was one of the best places to live. I still feel that way. I met the nicest people. The schools I feel are some of the best.”
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“Interesting that none of the rumor mongers are commenting here. You would think they would.”
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“Great article! I wish I’d not been so brainwashed when my child went thru private school. Maybe we would embraced the local system. Thank you Sally.”
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“I just shared the article about the new exercise facility and the increased course offerings in the health care field at Brush with my 7th grade daughters. They have been in Montessori school since they were 2 1/2 (where I work). They both want to know more about Brush and are excited about it.”
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“I’m happy someone is getting the conversation going on this subject. Having moved from the Shaker Heights school district, I have to admit that I was extremely nervous about moving outside of it. But boy am I glad we did it! My husband and I moved here in 2013 with 3 of our children, including an autistic child. Our son has high functioning autism (Aspergers) and was graduating from PEP (positive education program) which is an alternative school, after being placed there by the Shaker Heights district. He had been there for 3 years and we were fighting to get him back into public school full time, but shaker kept taking baby steps. Once I toured Greenview, I knew SEL district was the one for us. Within 2 months the teachers felt that our son was more than capable of attending full time and gave him a chance. He’s now a 7th grader at Memorial in regular education classes, he’s made the honor roll every year since greenview and he was on the cross country team in the fall. My point is, you can never judge a book by its cover or by other people’s perceptions. You have to experience things for yourself and draw your own conclusions from it. Our once antisocial little boy is now making friends and striving for excellence because he knows he has more people now than ever who are in his corner. Our oldest daughter is a kindergartener at Rowland (where I am the PTA Treasurer) and she has one of the best teachers ever! There is such a great sense of community here and I’m proud to be a resident of South Euclid. My mission is to make more people proud to be one too!”
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“My oldest son has been in the district since kindergarten. He’s in 7th grade now. We did move for 2 years to mayfield but we decided to come back to south Euclid. My step daughter has been in this district since 4th grade and she is also in 7th. Our youngest will be going to kindergarten next year. We are very pleased with this district. My kids love going to school and love their school! They both are in honors classes and I believe are getting a great education. When at mayfield they got made fun of all the time. My son often asked if he could go back to Rowland. The kids here treat him so much better and he’s way happier. I love the teachers and everything about this district. I will try and attend the meeting too.”
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“It’s a fabulous article, and I am sharing far and wide. I am the product of 13 schools- national and international; 3 high schools. My children also attended SHCS as well as independent schools. Supporting diversity in our neighborhoods will create peace at the very least.”

I Thought My School Was Typical

I grew up with the problem that no one talks about. I lived through community members gently tip-toeing around subjects like race and class. You might not think your ten-year-old child notices these types of things, but they do. I watched a number of my White peers move away to “better” areas. I saw friends transfer to private schools in search of a “better” education. It didn’t take long to realize that the people leaving SEL and the people entering SEL looked very different from each other. I might not have known why this was happening, but I knew.

I entered kindergarten at Adrian Elementary in 2000. My best friend lived around the corner from me. My mom volunteered with the PTA. I rode a school bus and was excited when they served chocolate pudding in the cafeteria. For much of my childhood, I thought my school was typical. There wasn’t anything special or out of the ordinary. How different could things be?

I slowly learned that there was one particular aspect of my school that made it different from many others. You see, half of the students I went to school with didn’t look like me. I was a fair-skinned child with blonde hair and blue eyes. Every day I would walk into a classroom where 50 percent of my peers were Black. Did I notice the difference in skin pigmentation? Yes, but I never thought anything of it. 7-year-old me lived in a post-racial world. Skin color didn’t matter when I played on the playground or ate lunch in the cafeteria.

As the time to transition to Greenview moved closer, more and more people moved away. I saw countless friends leave the school I loved. While a handful were moving across the state or even across the country, most were relocating less than 20 miles away. They settled down in places like Solon or Hudson, or sometimes even neighboring Mayfield.

It wasn’t until I crept toward adolescence that the reasoning for my peers leaving began to solidify. My parents explained to me the social phenomena of “White flight.” As more and more people of color moved into neighborhoods and schools, middle-class White people fled further away from the city center. I began to understand why all my classmates moving away were White and all the “new kids” weren’t. It wasn’t at all a sheer coincidence.

As I progressed further and further in SEL, jabs at my school became more pointed and a regular occurrence. Friends who had left the district or went to private schools would tell me that I went to a “ghetto” and “dangerous” school. Often times they were simply regurgitating what the adults in their lives had told them. Work colleagues or general acquaintances would question my parents as to why they would send their children to Brush. “Don’t you want a good education for your children? Maybe you should consider private school.”

It’s no wonder that my peers and I thought we went to a bad school. We were constantly surrounded by the negative opinions of (often uninformed) community members. Our friends from other schools would warn of being stabbed in the hallway. Complete strangers would inform us as to why Brush doomed us to a life of mediocrity.

If there is one thing that you pick up from this internet rambling, it’s this: sending me to Brush and SEL schools was the best thing my parents could have done for my education. I took honors and AP classes from dedicated faculty who taught me how to think critically. I engaged in a multitude of extracurricular activities that allowed me to become a well-rounded person. At Brush, I was able to excel academically while participating in a phenomenal music program and pursuing a love of art. I learned incredible leadership skills from pitching for the less-than-stellar softball team.

Most importantly, I learned how to engage with people who aren’t like me. From the time I entered kindergarten until I graduated high school, I attended schools that were at least 50 percent Black. I had classmates whose parents worked two jobs. I interacted with people who didn’t possess the same religious beliefs I did. These experiences helped give me a worldview that extends beyond my privileged, White, middle-class bubble. You don’t learn anything from being surrounded by homogeneity. I am infinitely more prepared for life because of my time at Brush.

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South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools have allowed me and my younger brother to be anything but mediocre. I’m currently a junior in Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs and serve as Media Director for the OSU chapter of Students for Education Reform. My brother Colin graduated as salutatorian of the class of 2015 and is currently a freshman at Northwestern University. An education in this school district has enabled us and many others to create a promising future of our own.

My father often describes living in South Euclid as “ground zero.” This is where we truly figure out if people from different classes, races, religions, and general walks of life can live together as neighbors and thrive. It’s a difficult process that requires reflecting on our tumultuous history filled with discriminatory practices. By attending SEL schools, we made a statement: we aren’t running from these challenges. We’re ready to face this head on.

In the fifteen years my family has been associated with SEL, the demographics of the schools shifted dramatically. In 2000, the district roughly represented the community it served: it was filled with mostly White, middle-class students. In a decade and a half, however, the schools’ population has become predominantly Black and the student poverty rate has increased almost 2500%. Many people are willing to acknowledge the recent influx of minority families into the public schools but not willing to do so for the equally important half. Middle-class, mainly White families have left our schools. It’s time we become comfortable addressing this fact. Like my colleague, Sally Martin, mentioned in her essay “The Problem No One Talks About,” race is a very difficult thing to discuss. But we have to start somewhere. We have to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

-Beth Fry

The Problem No One Talks About

When Beth Fry and I started the SEL Experience Project blog our goal was to highlight all the positive outcomes and stories from the South Euclid Lyndhurst School District and to have an “honest” conversation about the rumors and negative perceptions that have resulted in an erosion of support for our schools. The “honest” part is the hard part. It’s hard to talk about race and social class. I don’t feel qualified myself. I’m uncomfortable doing it, yet someone has to try. I’ll start by sharing my family’s story and do my best from there.

In 2001 we moved into our home on South Belvoir in South Euclid. Before long we were hearing negative stories about the schools. We were told that we “couldn’t use the schools”.  At the time our school district had excellent ratings, yet there was so much negative neighbor-to-neighbor talk. Frankly, I didn’t think much about it since our extended family had a long-standing tradition of Catholic education. We just enrolled our son in Catholic school and that was that.

It wasn’t until 2008 when I became South Euclid’s Housing Manager that I began to fully grasp what a high price we were paying as a community because of these negative perceptions. To be sure, our city like many others, was hit hard by the housing crisis. Almost 20% of our housing stock has been in foreclosure. Much of that was a result of predatory lending, but compounding that and predating that, there has been a long and disturbing trend of families moving away in search of “better schools”. During the crisis this occasionally showed up in the form of “strategic defaults”—people who could pay, but decided to stop paying on a mortgage. In some cases, these people purchased other homes elsewhere, then walked away from their South Euclid home. While strategic defaults weren’t widespread, I saw cases I could tie directly to negative school perceptions. In meeting with Realtors, I heard over and over again that the poor reputation of our schools was creating a problem with property sales.

Our homes are selling to young professionals, single folks, and empty nesters, but not to as many families with children. As a result we are seeing a trend of smaller household sizes. Rental properties have increased in South Euclid and other inner-ring suburbs as a result of the glut of bank-owned properties that were sold to investors and because of homeowners who have moved and rented out their homes. Many of these homes are now occupied by lower-income families who use the schools.

As we lost middle class families and more lower income folks began using the schools, we saw a shift in the demographics of our school district. In 12 years, our schools went from being predominantly white to predominantly black. Our school poverty rate increased over 2,400 percent and we became a Title 1 school district, which means that more than 40% of our school population is on free and reduced lunch and our district is eligible for special federal subsidies.

The schools no longer match the demographics of either community they serve. Both South Euclid and Lyndhurst remain predominately white and middle class, although the level of diversity in both cities continues to increase. As a result of the increased poverty levels of the schools, our test scores and state rankings have decreased. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy—as residents convinced each other that the schools were no good and decided to flee, it became clear, based on the ratings, that they had indeed become far worse. Except that they haven’t, and that’s where this gets complicated.

When our son Chris was in eighth grade he announced that he did not want to remain in private school for high school. This came as a shock to my husband and I and I’m embarrassed to admit that we fought him on it. In the end his stubbornness won out and he was enrolled at Brush High School. Little by little we realized that in spite of everything we’d heard, there was absolutely no truth to the negative rumors. Chris loved Brush and received a great education. When he graduated in 2014 he got an impressive scholarship and is now a sophomore at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The dedicated faculty and outstanding programs continue to exceed our expectations. Our daughter Sarah is now a freshman at Brush after spending eight years in private school. She loves the school, especially the fact that the other students are kind and accepting, something that wasn’t always the case at her former school. On her first day at Brush, the first group of girls she encountered in the cafeteria immediately waved her over and invited her to sit with them for lunch.

Not much has fundamentally changed about the curriculum at the district since it had excellent ratings. District wide, there are over 30 AP and Honors classes, scores of extracurricular offerings, a STEM program, opportunities to earn free college credit while in high school, 58 sports teams, including a gorgeous stadium, and world-class music and art instruction. There’s even a farm to fork program that brings local produce to our cafeterias, and the impressive Excel Tech program, that allows students real world training in over 22 vocations. It’s not a stretch to say that if all of our residents decided to start sending their kids to the district, our rankings would quickly be back to where they were 12 years ago. That’s the frustrating part. Now, we’ve come to the hardest part.

The unspoken but prevailing narrative is that if you’re black and low income the schools are just fine for you, but if you’re white or middle class, the schools aren’t good enough. There are plenty of code words and phrases that people use to say it, like “the schools have changed”, but what is really being said is that since the schools are predominantly attended by minority students, they must be inferior. I like to think that we’ve come a long way in terms of equality and acceptance in our little community, but this is still a chasm that sometimes feels insurmountable.

Worst of all, the students are aware of the negative things that are being said—they read all those nasty remarks on social media and Cleveland.com. Sarah was told by her former school peers that if she went to Brush she would probably be stabbed and have no friends; that it’s a “ghetto school.” I never thought that something as simple as sending my children to a neighborhood school could be considered an act of defiance, but in way it is. Another private school mother who sent her children to Brush told me her story. She explained that she and her kids took a lot of abuse for using the public school, but that she felt it was the best thing she has ever done for them in terms of preparing them to live in the wider world. Academically, her children have excelled. They received impressive college scholarships and have gone on to seek advanced degrees.

After having worked on our storytelling project for the better part of a year, I can say that one of the most surprising things I have discovered is that our graduates tend to be highly motivated by social justice and by and large want to go out and make the world a better place. Many already have, and we love to tell those stories.   But all this negativity has taken a toll on the morale of our students, faculty, and the community at large. It needs to stop. By far, our school district is one of the largest pieces of our municipal infrastructure. It’s not disposable and neither are our communities.Beth & Sally B&W

Our city is recovering. Due to a lot of hard work and innovation on the part of city staff, we’ve seen over $100 million in residential and commercial investment in our city since 2010. New homes are being built and values are increasing. Unfortunately, our residents are limiting our success. By saying negative things and continuing to feed the destructive narrative about our schools, we are undermining our own property values and perpetuating a cycle that is harming us all and further dividing us. The only way this is going to be solved is the same way it began—by changing our everyday conversations over the backyard fence, at the grocery store, and on social media. Our kids are worth it and our neighborhoods are worth it.

–Sally Martin