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.
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.
19 thoughts on “The Problem No One Talks About”
Excellent article. You really hit the points perfectly.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you Ken!
Well said. We are white Lyndhurst residents. I say that only for context. We have heard these negative comments from residents for years. Unfortunately they are always from people who do not send their kids to the district so they do not know what they are talking about. Both of our daughters went all the way through the system. They loved the system. They have thrived in college and beyond. And they are better people and more socially conscious because of their experience.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It is amazing how the biggest detractors have no first-hand knowledge of our schools.
Thank you for saying everything I can never seem to put into words when I find myself in the unfortunate position of defending my choice to have my children in the SEL schools.
We moved here 12 years ago to start a family and haven’t regretted it. SE is a community in which I am proud to live and and have my children educated.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you Julie! That is great to hear! We couldn’t agree more!
I have been saying these exact things for years. Our schools are as good as any private school and schools such as Chardon and Hudson. Lyndhurst residents, give the schools a chance and they won’t be predominantly black.
Thank you Christine! Please keep telling everyone you know! It’s the only way things will change.
I wanted to add that I enjoyed the energy and positivity displayed in the articles. My daughters are graduates of Brush, I am a retired teacher from SEL schools, and we proudly reside in S. Euclid.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you! Please keep spreading the good news about our wonderful community!
Thank you for addressing this. PLEASE please send this piece to both the Sun Messenger and Sun Press (CHUH has the identical problem). You commented on my response to Sun Paper’s editor Laura Johnston, who announced today “she’s moving away to get her kids into GOOD SCHOOLS” and also from the same high taxes she and her paper have been promoting here for decades!
I also appreciate your addressing “strategic foreclosure”. Please write more about this — the PD, Sun papers, Heights Observer, Monticello neighbors — ANYWHERE. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. In my CH neighborhood, I saw couples with good jobs, who walked away from mortgages they could afford because “why should I pay X dollars, when the house isn’t worth that much anymore?” and then after THREE YEARS of living in that home rent-free, they had a fat downpayment on a better house in a suburb further east of here. THIS HAPPENED ALL THE TIME, though probably mostly between 2009 and 2013.
Many of these folks are the biggest “negative talkers” about our area. And no, we will never be able to attract young families and move-up buyers, if OUR OWN LOCAL COMMUNITY PAPER permits their publisher/editor/columnist to tell us “CHUH has no good schools for my children” and “why should I pay for these high taxes (that I previously insisted other residents vote for)”.
Sadly, We attempted to get Cleveland.com/PD to cover this and we have gotten nowhere! Apparently, this is not newsworthy! We agree with you that strategic defaults became all-too-common and very under-reported. The media have not been our friends in the inner-ring. Routinely muck-raking and beating us further down. This reporter and her editor should be ashamed.
I would not count on REPORTERS to cover this. Many times, the reporters, the editors and publishers are “escapees” who left inner ring suburbs (or left the eastside for the westside) and are defensive about their positions. Yet they continually encourage voters here to vote for ruinous high taxes, bond issues and the like (which they themselves do not have to pay).
When I say “write the papers (and internet media)”, I mean the letters column. I wrote the Sun Press, and already have a response that they say they will print my letter (about Laura Johnston) in the next issue. I also posted on her Twitter account, and Facebook page. The Heights Observer will publish most submitted stories and articles about the general region. Also The Patch (online), Cleveland.com, etc.
We need to be proactive, because our communities are directly threatened by this.
Thank you for sharing and for the kind words!
Thank you for a well thought-out piece. I live in and send my children to public school in Cleveland Heights. All the same things can be said of my community.
Thanks for your comment Malia. We need to work together on this issue as a region! We are happy to be partnering with Heights Community Congress and will keep pushing!
I am really happy that there seems to be a trend here toward families staying put and investing in a walkable neighborhood with great natural resources and affordable housing. The porch parties and mini parks and neighborhood gardens are wonderful. I truly love living here.
But, I hesitate to send my two black sons to South Euclid Middle School and ultimately the High School. And, it is not the kids. I wonder if the school has the skills to educate Urban Children. My daughter went to Brush and tells me how masses of black children are treated. Where are their stories in this blog?
Drugs are a huge problem with a certain population here. If my boys are not in advanced placement classes how will they be treated? How will they be educated? What type of expectations and unwritten curriculum will effect them?
And, don’t tell me to just listen to the stories that other families are telling. I want to see the classes for myself so that I may form my own opinion. Make the schools more open and allow community dialog so that parents and teachers/administrators can interact. I want to know more before I send my kids there.
I do love living here in South Euclid. I would like to be able to send my children to the schools so that I can avoid taking them half-way across Ohio to school.
Chelley: We feel your concerns should be addressed through the collective wisdom of the group, so we turned your comment into a blog post. We are hopeful that the community will help allay your concerns and offer feedback that will help improve the school experience for all families. Thank you for sharing your concerns.