“I hesitate to send my two black sons to South Euclid Middle School and ultimately the High School.”

At it’s heart, the SEL Experience Project is community organizing.  It’s bringing people together to share our collective concerns and wisdom to create positive change in our community. It’s not about PR, spin, or sugar-coating.  We know there are tough questions out there and we formed this community to help address them. We received a new comment on the blog that we feel the community should address together.  This parent loves the community but is reluctant to send her sons to our schools.  We’ve reprinted her comment below with the hope that you will have something to say on the topic that might help allay her concerns, but also to improve the overall school experience for everyone.

“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.”

Meet the Denk Family!

Driving down Harwood Road in South Euclid you might notice a tidy Colonial with soccer goals in the front yard.  Tom and Joellen Denk have lived in their charming South Euclid home since marrying in 2003. “When we purchased our home in South Euclid, we heard a lot of supportive comments about the neighborhood and our ‘starter’ home.  As we settled in and our priorities became clear, we felt we could remove the ‘starter’ tag from our home,” explained Tom.

The Denks’ commitment to the  South Euclid community extends to SEL Schools, where their two sons, who are 8 and 6, attend Rowland School. Tom explained the family’s decision to use SEL Schools: “We attended an Open House in the spring before our first son attended Kindergarten.  We found the K-3 program very organized, with appropriate class sizes, aides, and support staff.  Our oldest son is gifted and his teachers identified some action plans that would keep him engaged.  Our neighbor’s children went through the District and we heard positives about their experiences.  Joellen teaches at a neighboring district.  Our sons’ education is a priority and we feel they are in capable hands”.

Tom shares many other parents’ frustrations about the negative information that sometimes circulates about the schools. “I think people would be wise to visit the schools and talk to parents to gather first-hand information and dialog about what’s happening now, not rely on chat-room scuttlebutt.  For instance, our babysitter is on the Brush High School award-winning Robotics Team.  Motivated students with engaged parents have a great opportunity in this district.”

The Denks are also aware of the fact that some families decide to move away from what they perceive is a “starter home” community. “We’ll own our home soon. We know our neighbors, our sons’ teachers and their principal.  Our neighbors look out for each other.  You may see our family walking our dog, visiting the new library, or taking care of our community garden plot.  There are opportunities to volunteer here.  I coach Little League and the parents and children are wonderful.  My wife and I grew up in different cities, and we both recalled playing with other kids from the neighborhood.  Our children get to do that now.  They can ride their bikes down the sidewalk to see their friends. Raising a family can take up what’s left of my free time.  Time is the only non-renewable commodity and I’m not wasting it on long daily commutes.  Now, thirteen years later, I’m not worrying if I made the right choice or if I need to move.”

Denk Family

Hey, did you know?

Every day, it seems, the SEL Experience Project finds out something new and amazing about SEL Schools. Yesterday the big news for us is that SEL Schools has the only K-3 STEM program in the area! Yes, that’s right, our students are the only ones locally to have amazing STEM labs and this incredible program. Did you know that? One of the most frustrating things about telling the story of our schools is that there is so much great stuff that a lot of folks just don’t know about. Even those of us who are involved miss things because there is so much happening all the time. We all need an “elevator speech” to help inform friends and family about our schools.  We have a district with so many great things happening all the time. As always, we need your help! Tell us about the programs you love best in SEL Schools, what you think people don’t realize, and your advice for getting the word out.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The goal of the SEL Experience Project is to tell the truth– always–even when it doesn’t make for particularly pleasant conversation. Since we started the blog last summer, we’ve had the opportunity to speak informally with parents, students, teachers, administrators, and residents. These conversations have given us a 30,000-foot view of our school district and have put us in the position of having a better understanding of multiple perspectives. That unique insight has also created frustration and concern.

Someone asked us an interesting question this week: who are we trying to reach through the blog? Surely, we have one target audience. We envisioned this blog as speaking to people in the community who might not have a clear understanding of what our SEL School District offers. These could be residents with children in the District, those with children who could go to the District, but don’t, residents without children or empty-nesters who have heard negative things about the schools, or non-residents who have a desire to find out more about our schools because they are looking for housing or are selling real estate in the area and want to be better informed. That’s a pretty big audience, and a pretty big challenge. After doing this for a while, we found that we have been reaching lots of teachers and administrators as well. We realized that they needed support and encouragement to deal with the negative perception issues as just much as parents and community members.

After speaking with all these folks, we know one thing for sure: everyone wants the best for our kids. We are operating from a place of common ground, and that means so much. We all want our kids to succeed and achieve their dreams. We all feel proud when we read about the great things our students and former students are doing. They’re OUR kids. That’s what’s important here.

It’s been a rough year. Feelings have been hurt. People with good intentions on all sides feel misunderstood, victimized, and wounded. Because of this hurt, relationships have broken down resulting in a toxic disconnect between our teachers and our administration. We fear that this is starting to hurt OUR kids, and could undo some of the good that has been done to move the district forward. A house divided, soon falls. There is no “us” and “them”, only “we”. We need to find true common ground–a place of respect and mutual understanding. Parents and students find themselves in middle. The danger is that some of the parties involved, be they teachers, parents, or administrators, will give up and leave, making it even harder to move forward in the most positive way. We’re at a tipping point and our kids need us all to be at the top of our game. Picture a three-legged stool: the legs are made up of teachers, administrators, and parents. The students are balanced on the top and are being held up by those three legs. If one leg starts to give way, the whole thing falls apart. No one group can hold it all together. We have to work together.

We have an opportunity here to show our kids how adults can solve difficult problems, hopefully by working together out of a place of mutual respect. How do we fix this together? Tell us your thoughts and ideas. Our kids are worth it.

Cleveland is Feeling the Love

The Love Siblings

There’s a back story to this alumni profile.  I admit that I have been harassing my colleague, Michael Love to complete one of our alumni profiles for quite some time.  I desperately wanted him to give us an update on what he and his two siblings have been doing since graduation because I think it shows, very clearly, the kind of graduates that come out of SEL Schools.  This is a profile I knew you would all want to read, and in keeping with Michael’s understated and modest style, I would say he’s holding back–just a little.

Having had the privilege of working with him since 2008, I can honestly say that he is a tireless and devoted servant of our community.  He has a resume that makes it obvious that he could work anywhere, yet he has committed himself to South Euclid and has purchased his own home here.  As Economic Development Director, he has accomplished so much.  During his tenure the city has seen over $100 million in new investment, and he was instrumental in establishing One South Euclid, the city’s community development corporation.  He has been a speaker at national conferences, a committed volunteer for many South Euclid and Cleveland causes, and works tirelessly to make South Euclid and Greater Cleveland the best it can be.

Michael’s brother Stephen is another Cleveland powerhouse! Formerly employed by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the Cuyahoga Land Bank, and now as a Program Officer for the Cleveland Foundation, Stephen is establishing a name for himself in the region as someone who is instrumental to Cleveland’s Renaissance. The creative genius behind the Euclid Beach Blast, Stephen has spent untold hours cleaning up Euclid Beach and attracting scores of others to take up the cause. In his free time, you can see him putting his Brush Band skills to good use, playing the trombone in venues all over town with Son Gitano, the uber popular Latin Jazz band. Stephen and his equally accomplished fiance, Ali Lukacsy, have purchased a home near the lake in Collinwood that they are lovingly renovating. Both are committed to the Collinwood art scene and helping to create a more vibrant NEO.

Sarah Love is continuing her education by pursuing a Doctorate in Psychology, having recently been accepted into a prestigious program at Wright State.  We hope that she follows in her brothers’ footsteps and returns to Greater Cleveland upon completion of her academic career.

The Love siblings typify the kind of selfless devotion to service we see in so many SEL graduates.  In writing these profiles, what often comes to light is that our graduates want to make the world a better place and are willing to work hard to make that happen.  One thing  is for sure: we love the LOVE siblings! — Sally Martin

What are your names and when did you graduate from SEL Schools?

Michael Love:           2004

Stephen Love:           2006

Sarah Love:               2011

Where did you attend college, what was your major, and what year did you graduate?

Michael:       

Baldwin Wallace University, BA Communication Studies, 2008

Cleveland State University, Master of Public Administration (MPA), 2009

Stephen:

Baldwin Wallace University, BA Political Science/International Studies, 2010

Cleveland State University, Master of Public Administration (MPA), 2011

Sarah:

Ohio Wesleyan University, BA Psychology, 2015

Wright State University, PsyD Candidate, Doctor of Psychology, 2020

What are you doing now and where do you live?

Michael:

Economic Development Director for the City of South Euclid, lives in South Euclid 

Stephen:

Program Officer for the Cleveland Foundation, lives in Cleveland (North Collinwood)

Sarah:

PsyD Candidate (Doctor of Psychology) at Wright State University, lives in Dayton

What activities were you involved in while at SEL Schools?

Michael:

Model UN, Student Council, Peer Tutoring, Future Business Leaders Club

Stephen:

Band, Student Council, National Honor Society

Sarah:

Band, Key Club

In what ways do you feel that SEL Schools prepared you for your future endeavors?

We feel SEL Schools truly prepared us for future success. SEL Schools provided us with a truly well-rounded education which allowed us to be prepared for success in college and beyond.

All three of us attended SEL Schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade and feel our education was unmatched. The academic programs and offerings, particularly at the high school level, put students such as ourselves on a path to success in college. Graduating from Brush, one can be confident that success in college is very likely. The opportunity to earn college credit through enrolling in a diverse range of Advancement Placement Classes is big advantage SEL Schools offer. These classes do a great job in preparing students for college and through the college credit opportunity can allow students to potentially finish college early. Coming out of Brush, all three of us felt ready for college, and had successful college careers. This translated to all three of us enrolling in graduate programs and being on track for professional success.

Beyond the academic offerings at Brush, the range of extracurricular activities allowed all three of us to explore our different interests, being involved in everything from music to helping other students succeed. Of course, the diverse types and personalities of the student body in SEL Schools, truly prepares you for what you will encounter in the real world. Starting in college and throughout your professional career, you will interact with those different from you. Being educated in a diverse school district, and it is diverse in every sense of the word, allows these interactions to be enjoyable. We also feel SEL students are more likely to seek out these interactions in their post-school lives.

What are some of your favorite memories, teachers, or classes from SEL Schools?

All of us enjoyed our experiences throughout our time in SEL. One thing the three of us had in common was an appreciation for the foreign language curriculum. All three us began taking Spanish in the 7th Grade and took it throughout our high school careers. Being in the foreign language program is a great example of the practical skills an SEL education offers for students.

We also very much enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. We each partook in somewhat different activities with experiences that we continue to find useful today. Whether it be the teamwork skills learned in band, the leadership skills from being part of Student Council, or the commitment to helping others gained from Key Club, all of the activities we were part of provided us with valuable life lessons.

We believe our time and experiences in SEL Schools contributed greatly to the people we are today.

If there was one thing you wish people knew about SEL Schools, what would it be?

We wish people had a better understanding of the high quality education SEL Schools offer. We truly believe it is the amazing education we received through SEL Schools that allowed us to have great college and now professional career experiences. Continuing to share success stories is one of the best ways to get the word out about our school district and the opportunities it provides.  

Brush is truly an ideal sized high school. It offers many opportunities that could not be found in smaller school districts, such as the diverse range of AP Classes and extracurricular activities, while still being able to offer much individualized instruction and attention to fit the needs of all students. We feel there is a deep commitment in SEL Schools to student success.

Heroes

Heros come in many forms. Some are widely recognized for their bravery and others remain mostly anonymous and unrecognized, yet their deeds change lives in countless ways.  Sometimes the hero may have no idea that they are making a difference.

Our SEL teachers are heroes.  It’s a rare gift to find out that you are making a difference in someone’s life, and we’re sure that our teachers are not hearing about it often enough.  We know sometimes it feels like a thankless job, but the fact that you show up day after day and never give up on our kids is making a difference.  You are creating ripples on the pond that have impacts well beyond what you may ever realize.

We know that this has been a tough year for you, and sometimes you feel like giving up.  Please don’t.  Every day you get up and make a difference in the lives of our kids.  Every day, you change lives.  Every day, your example influences another human being and helps shape them into a person who will change the world.  SEL graduates are changing the world–you’ve read their stories here.  You were an important part of that.  You made the difference.  The decision you made to get up and try again another day, helped make that happen. Don’t ever stop.

Who’s Keeping Score?

The new state report cards are out.  If you live in an inner ring suburb this brings a similar measure of dread as having  a root canal or finding out  that you have water pouring through the kitchen ceiling.  These state testing metrics are highly flawed and always tend to favor schools with higher income families and low diversity.  We can take some comfort in the fact that this newest round is so flawed that, according to Cleveland.com, “the Ohio Education Association, one of Ohio’s two largest teachers unions, said people should view the grades with ‘considerable caution.’ OEA President Becky Higgins reminded people that the scores are based on tests from PARCC, the multi-state testing consortium that Ohio fired in July.”

Nonetheless, our SEL Schools received  “A” grades for value added, gifted value added, and special needs value added, and an overall grade of C, which according to an article that ran today in Cleveland.com, is now the most common grade received, with the number of districts receiving “A” grades dropping from 37 to 6.

The metrics used for state report cards falls far short of telling the whole story of a school district.  Yet school rankings, no matter how flawed, will be touted by media outlets, tweeted, posted on Facebook pages, and spread like the plague across the region, creating winners and losers, and sealing the fate of communities.  The internet trolls will be at it again, tearing down diverse schools and making cringe-worthy comments.

The real story can’t be found in a score.  It’s told through the stories of the families, students, and teachers that make up a district. We plan to keep telling them.

Brush Art Continues to Amaze!

If you weren’t already aware, the Brush Art Department is one of the crown jewels of the SEL District.  Every year, Brush art students win awards at local, state, and national competitions and a surprising number of students go on to pursue fine arts or applied arts careers. Brush will be one of the 11 regions in the state of Ohio for the Governor’s show this year. Brush Art teachers will take in an enormous amount of student artwork to be judged regionally, as the most central region in Northeastern Ohio. Works selected by judges at Brush will go to Columbus for a state final judging. The event is from 7:30 -5pm Saturday, March 5th.

In keeping with tradition,  Brush students swept the recent Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Brush students received 22 awards at the 36th Annual Scholastics Art & Writing competition. This exhibit showcases Cuyahoga County’s finest young talent. Judges sorted through 3,000 pieces of artwork and writing samples before choosing the finalists that were on display  at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Reinberger Gallery from January 14- 30th.

All pieces receiving the highest merit of “Gold Key” will continue to be judged at the national competition in New York City.

Congrats to the following students:

GOLD KEY AWARDS

Danae Scoville

Aquatic Blues, Mixed Media

Educator: Sarah Curry

Lexi Steverding

Fire and Ice, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

SILVER KEY AWARDS

Ava Glessner

Alicia, Drawing and Illustration

Educator: Sarah Curry

Ava Glessner

Bugging Me, Drawing and Illustration

Educator: Sarah Curry

Jaylen Hawkins

Black Bun, Drawing and Illustration

Educator: Sarah Curry

Kiara Maclin

Somewhere Over the Rainboots, Digital Art

Educator: Hadley Conner

Lexi Steverding

Wild Things, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Mike Taddeo

Shadows, Photography

Educator: Hadley Conner

H(ONORABLE MENTION AWARDS

Mikayla Colston

Petals in the Sky, Photography

Educator: Hadley Conner

Alicia Feliciano

St. Felicia the Patron of Farewells, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Alicia Feliciano

Destination Destiny, Mixed Media

Educator: Sarah Curry

Sam Fisher

Pica So Kawaii, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Jaylen Hawkins

Pillsbury Dough Boy, Drawing and Illustration

Educator: Sarah Curry

Jaylen Hawkins

Resting Bitch Face, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Jaylen Hawkins

I Don’t Know What to Name This, Art Portfolio

Educator: Sarah Curry

Kiara Maclin

Let’s Go Bowling! Photography

Brush High School

Educator: Hadley Conner

Chassidy Smedley

Vibe, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Lexi Steverding

Sweet Nothings, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Lexi Steverding

Jane, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Lexi Steverding

Singles, Painting

Educator: Sarah Curry

Jesse Waxman

Candy Still Life, Drawing and Illustration

Educator: Sarah Curry

Clarke Wheeler

Kids in Snow, Photography

Educator: Hadley Conner

 

16,000

Our little blog has now reached almost 16,000 views.  This tells us that people care deeply about our schools and about working  to shift negative perceptions.  We have to work together as residents, parents, students, teachers, and school administration to undo more than a decade of false assumptions and gossip mongering.   Keeping people talking openly and turning ideas into action is our goal.  None of us can do this alone, but together we can and we will. We want to hear your ideas about how we can make SEL Schools the destination school district we all hope it can be. Keep the ideas and the comments coming!  Here’s to another 16,000 views!

There goes the neighborhood

As someone engaged in the 24-7 business of building community in an inner ring suburb, one thing becomes abundantly clear: when it comes to people’s perceptions, we don’t get a second chance. It’s as if people are waiting for confirmation that we are, as some online commenters like to say, circling the drain. Any report of a theft, an arrest at the supermarket, a group of kids walking home being loud and obnoxious, too much litter on the ground, and it confirms their worst suspicions—“This place is on the decline. Better get out while you can!” Of course these things happen everywhere. The difference is, when they happen in a more uniformly upscale community, they are outliers—not representative of a negative trend like they are when they happen in a city like ours. Those cities get the benefit of the doubt. We never do.   We’ve learned to accept that everything is harder here. Every victory is hard won. The decks are stacked and we have to work harder and be more innovative, just to keep our heads above water. We can’t work a regular 40-hour week and expect that to be sufficient. We need to attend the block group picnics, answer the emails, texts, and Facebook messages at night and on the weekends, to reassure even the most committed residents that everything will be okay. We drive out to a vacant house on Sunday to get someone to shut off the water that’s pouring from the basement windows. We pull weeds in the park because we don’t have enough staff to handle it. Why does it have to be so hard?

We are the middle class. Just like the rest of middle class America, we are stretched too thin. We wonder how much longer we can hang on. Inner ring suburbs are the canaries in the coal mine. What happens here happens on a larger scale everywhere. As smaller suburbs, we’re the perfect sample size to spot trends. Predatory lending, mortgage foreclosures, strategic defaults, growing property tax delinquency, bank walkaways—we’ve spotted them here first. Like a mother who knows instinctively that something is wrong with her child, we know these places intimately and we quickly know when something goes amiss.

The frustrating part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Lots of people thought it was a great idea to keep spending money building roads and infrastructure that would cause  cities like ours to hollow out, encouraging those with greater means and the desire for new and bigger housing to move to suburbs further and further out, leaving us with the same infrastructure to maintain with fewer and fewer resources to do it. Since our region doesn’t share equally in these costs, cities bear the burden of maintaining themselves as resources diminish. Taxes go up to compensate, and already squeezed residents find it harder and harder to justify paying more and getting what seems like less.  As sidewalks and roads start to crumble, the naysayers’ negative assumptions get reinforced and more people leave, making it a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. Soon a suburb that was founded on the American Dream, becomes a city of broken dreams. The post-war bungalows that suited our parents’ and grandparents’ generation seem tired, too small, and past their prime–no longer good enough for our young families. Many who remain see little value in improving the homes, and have difficulty finding a lender to help make that happen even if they wanted to invest in improvements. Real estate agents do little to help, as many tend to reinforce the notion that these homes aren’t worth improving. They advise homeowners that a gourmet kitchen and flagstone patio won’t be investments that can be recouped at resale time.

As our schools shifted in their demographic mix, hitting some unspoken tipping point, many residents lost confidence and expressed it by either moving away or choosing a private school that puts their finances further on tilt—money that could have been invested in the upkeep of their homes or towards their children’s college education. As a result, the demographics of our schools no longer match the demographics of the communities they serve—having become predominately minority and higher poverty. Not surprisingly, state test scores decline and yet another self-fulfilling prophecy is realized. Local media are only too happy to publish school rankings and sites like Zillow create handy color-coded school rating systems based on dubious metrics that further steer prospective homebuyers to higher-income exurban locations. This is the new face of redlining for our era. What homebuyer who has a choice would choose to move to a school district with a red or yellow rating on Zillow? Even if they have no children, they worry about resale. Those of us with children in these school districts know first-hand that our kids are getting a great education, but these pervasive perceptions affect everyone, hurting the children attending the schools, the faculty, and the community.

After a while the self esteem of the community falters. We no longer expect anything good to happen. We don’t expect to get a beautiful new retail district or see new homes being built. When those things occur, they are regarded with suspicion. With that kind of negative community narrative, is it any wonder that new residents aren’t attracted to the area? Realtors discreetly (and illegally) tell some house hunters that they “might prefer another area”. So why bother? Why does it matter if another inner-ring suburb goes down the drain?

Nature abhors a monoculture. Just as a field planted with one type of crop is more prone to disease than a wider variety of crops, diversity creates a stronger community. Inner ring suburbs by their nature are diverse, accommodating all people across a wide variety of cultures, race, and income levels. When I see our community, I see infinite potential. I’ve seen first-hand how our houses can be transformed into showplaces. When maintained well and attractively improved, our homes sell quickly, many times above their asking price.  I know because of my own family’s experience that our schools are great in spite of the rumors and the decline in state rankings. We have the potential to be amazing, and I hate to see wasted potential. Because of our central location, we can be almost anywhere in minutes. Great shopping, restaurants, breathtakingly beautiful parks, and healthcare options are within walking distance. We have terrific access to public transportation, eliminating the need to commute to many locations by car. Our housing stock is diverse, well constructed, and affordable. As one resident likes to say: “we may have a small house, but we have a big life”. Not overspending on housing has allowed them the flexibility to travel widely and live out their dreams. Many of our residents do the same, having paid off their homes, their lives are now their own. They are not living one paycheck away from catastrophe. We are seeing more young professionals moving in as well—student loan debt making our affordability very attractive. The key will be retaining them in the years to come.

All of this unrealized potential comes at a high cost. The cost of maintaining infrastructure for a region that keeps sprawling is not sustainable. Hunter Morrison’s extensive research for Vibrant NEO 2040 spells out the risks of not changing course and shows exactly how these negative trends can be reversed by making better policy decisions now. Why not support and maintain what we already have? It’s far more sustainable and cost effective, especially when you consider that one way or another, we will have to support it either by fixing it, or dealing with the aftermath, including shifting tax burdens to outer communities if we don’t. Compounding these sobering trends, the state has taken away sorely needed resources from cities including the Local Government Fund, to add to the state’s “Rainy Day Fund”. We need to let Governor Kasich know that while the sun might be shining at the State House, it’s raining in the inner ring suburbs.

These policy decisions are critical and it’s our responsibility to speak loudly to lawmakers about our needs, but the every day decisions that we make can be just as important. We can maintain and improve our homes with the confidence that values are going to increase, support our schools by sending our children there, and get involved in our community by joining a neighborhood group, volunteering, or even just picking up trash when we see it. In spite of the obstacles, and perhaps because of them, I am more determined than ever to help everyone see the potential of our core suburbs. Inner ring suburbs are truly great and affordable places to call home, we just need to stop sabotaging ourselves and do our part to create the kind of community we want to live in. As urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter says, “you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one.”                                     –Sally Martin