Why my family is voting yes on Issue 32

SEL LEVYThere are moments that stay with you forever.  Several years ago, I was sitting in Melissa Thompson’s office in tears. Our daughter wasn’t able to attend school anymore.  Crippling anxiety made it impossible. There were many days she could not manage to leave her room.  The school district had bent over backward offering every possible alternative, and we had sought every form of help imaginable, but nothing was working.  Formerly a good student, Sarah’s prospects were looking unthinkably bleak.  I had just used the letter we received recommending her for induction into the National Honor Society to get a lower rate on car insurance, but here we were.

Melissa asked me if anyone in our family had ever not finished high school—ever not finished college?  I whispered no.  It was our family’s tradition to graduate from college.  There was never a discussion.  It was assumed. Allowing a child to drop out of school was unthinkable.  Melissa provided a much-needed reality check that we must do what’s right for each child no matter what that looks like, no matter our usual world-view.  She assured me that many students that she has known who have dropped out ended up getting advanced degrees.  She said that this did not have to define the person my daughter would become. She handed me a GED prep guide which she placed in reusable shopping bag to hide it from wandering gazes. As I walked out of the administration building that day, the parent of a high school dropout, it occurred to me that our family, a family no one would suspect of bringing down the school’s graduation rate or state rankings, had just done our bit to make the South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools look a bit worse on paper. But it was the right decision for our daughter.

There is more behind the numbers and state rankings than you will ever know.  It’s a fact that schools with a large percentage of black and brown kids tend to do worse in the rankings.  The reasons are myriad—single parent homes, eviction history with spotty school attendance in multiple districts, kids who can’t get enough food to eat at home, or as in our case, mental health issues which are becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, especially among young people.  In addition, public schools must educate every child.  Developmentally disabled students are required to take the same state tests too.  Districts have an obligation to educate them in public schools, a privilege that developmentally disabled people like my older sister never had in the 60s and 70s. Because of this, these kids are achieving better outcomes than ever before, and SEL is known to be a district that does an outstanding job of meeting their needs—even if it means educating them until they are 21, if it’s in the best interest of the child.  Some districts will turn them out at age 18.  Not ours. This hurts our rankings, but we do it because it’s right.  That’s what it means to educate the whole child. If you look deeply, if you visit the schools, talk to families, and talk to teachers, you get a very different picture of our schools than state tests would have you believe.  The purpose of the SEL Experience Project blog is to scratch below the surface, to show the advantages to students of attending a diverse school district.  It’s almost uncanny how our graduates tend to favor professions that help forward social justice.  We have told story after story about this.  When you go to school every day with students who come from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, your world view changes.  It creates a deep desire to promote equity. That is a very special gift in our increasingly divided and fractured world.

Voting for a school levy is a vote for your community.  It’s a way of saying that every child matters.  That in our community, we value education, no matter what the students look like, no matter what they are struggling with, no matter what kind of home (or lack of a home) they return to at night.  Quality public education is critical—it’s the foundation of our democratic society.  It does no good to keep perpetuating segregation by cutting off funding and creating even more division between the “haves and have nots”.  It has to stop.  Yes, your taxes are too high.  Many things need to change at the state and regionally to fix the system.  School funding through property taxes has been declared unconstitutional. The system is broken and there are many working every day to fix it.  But in the meantime, this district has gone seven years without asking for more money. This was accomplished through solid fiscal management, and the yeoman’s work of those on the frontlines with these kids:  teachers, administrators, nurses, coaches, social workers. They need to be given the tools to do the best job they can. This community has always supported school levies. Every single time.  A yes vote is a way of saying that no matter what is happening in our world, our community is taking a stand for equity, fairness, and for the importance of children. Even if they look different from us.  That’s a pretty great return on the 66 cents a day this is going to cost us.

If for no other reason, vote yes on Issue 32 to help bolster your property values.  Communities that support their schools do better at attracting and retaining residents. Their property values are higher.  Even if you have no children in our schools—do it for the community.  Because it’s the right thing to do.

–Sally Martin

 

21 Students who will change the world

Brush NHS 2019

This year, the SEL Experience Project’s Sally Martin was the speaker at the Brush National Honor Society induction ceremony. It was a privilege to meet these outstanding students, who we are certain will be changing the world for the better. The following are the remarks that were shared at the ceremony:

One of the most surprising things that has come out of spending the last four years interviewing alumni and sharing stories on the SEL Experience Project blog, has been the almost uncanny way that the Brush grads we interviewed, almost without exception, have chosen professions where they can help others and level the playing field.  Whether they become doctors, lawyers, artists, or teachers, they often choose to serve the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised–the ones who need the most help in our increasingly divided society.   Often, they tell us that attending a diverse school system made them want to use their skills to make the world more united, fair, and equitable. They felt that SEL helped shape their world view, and made them better equipped to function in the wider world.  The examples are inspiring. Dr. Melanie Ferrara Finkenbinder, a primary care physician who works in an underserved Latino community in Columbus has helped create a free grocery store to provide her patients, who live in a food desert, with a reliable supply of fresh produce.  Ari Daniel Shapiro brings issues of climate change to national audiences as a science reporter for Public Radio International. Adina Pliskin is breaking the glass ceiling of Hollywood through her work as a Latina documentary filmmaker and producer.

Getting to the place of writing the blog came from some hard-won wisdom.  Like many white middle class parents, my husband and I were warned by well-meaning friends that we shouldn’t use the schools in South Euclid.  According to them, SEL Schools just weren’t good enough for our children. Since it was part of the family tradition anyway, we dutifully put our kids in Catholic School. When our son, Chris was in eighth grade, he announced that he was done with private school and wanted to attend Brush. Given that this kid was about the most stubborn child ever born, we relented.  Much to our surprise, Chris thrived at Brush, got an excellent education and especially enjoyed the incredible art education he received from Ms. Connor and Ms. Curry. In 2018, he graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he continues to live and work in the art field. When I became the Housing Director for the City of South Euclid in 2008, I saw how the lack of confidence in our schools was causing a reduction in our housing prices.  Realtors frequently mentioned concerns about the schools, and school rankings–which never tell the whole story– had been dropping.  When Brush grad, Beth Fry became my intern one summer, we realized that we both had grave concerns about what was happening as white families left the district.  The once balanced diversity that was the hallmark of SEL was rapidly shifting.  In less than 12 years, the district went from being 80 percent white to 80 percent black–a particularly strange phenomena since we weren’t seeing the same level of white flight in the populations of the two cities the district serves.  Both South Euclid and Lyndhurst are still majority white communities.

Sadly, this isn’t a unique problem.  According to award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, who points out in her recent New York Times article entitled, “It Was Never About Busing”, we have made little progress since the Supreme Court passed Brown vs. the Board of Education.  She reminds us that 65 years later, black students are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid 70s.

As our best and brightest, you have a special charge.  You are called to be the change.  My generation has failed.  Our society is divided like never before. When a school district has re-segregated, it should serve as a warning sign that our society has run off course. We look to you, as our future leaders, to change this firmly entrenched pattern of fear and separation. The noted author and psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler Ross said that there are only two emotions from which all other emotions arise:  fear and love. If you don’t actively choose love, you will find yourself in a place of fear.  Every moment offers the choice to choose one or the other. As we can see from what is happening in Washington, our society at large has chosen fear.  Your generation must change that.

Last Friday, I had the privilege to speak to a sold-out crowd at the City Club about the challenges of inner-ring suburbs, which was also being live-broadcast on WCPN (NO PRESSURE THERE!).  The subject of schools came up and I told the story of the blog and my family’s positive experiences with SEL Schools.  After the presentation, I was mobbed by people who praised me for having the courage to discuss race.  They said no one talks about this stuff.  That’s precisely the problem.  It’s the elephant in the room and it’s time we called it out.  One of my favorite poets, the late song writer Leonard Cohen, wrote a song entitled ‘Anthem’ that contains the following lyrics:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

It’s time to let the light in and speak our truth.  When I let go of my fear and decided to start talking about this, I found that it resonated with so many people and allowed them to step out of their fear too. When you are old enough to vote—make sure you do.  Urge the adults in your household to vote at every election.  This is critical.  It matters.  Never be afraid to speak the truth to power. Keep showing up and speak your truth.  We are proud of you.  We are depending on you.  I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.

Congratulations to the 2019-2020 Inductees and current members of Brush National Honor Society:

New Members:

Kaelum Adams                    Hailee Jones

Lillie Alshiekhtala                Alex Kumar

Aiyana Buckner                   Isabelle Lashley

Jessyka Camandillo             Sean Pierce

Dylan Dicenzi                       Jaslyn Rozier

Nathan Eckman                  Gwyneth Seddon

Gianni Fitch                          Darrien Smith

Raya Fitch                             Devin Suttles

Arthur Franklin                    Carla Wagner

Hali Hocker                          Alyssa Wiegand

Niah Johnson

Current Members:

Keenan Barnes                    Nikolas Anderson

Sloane Boukobza                Victoria Semler

Noah Turoff                          Suyee Chen

Shalea Williams                   Amber See

Nikki Woods, Class of 2008, Director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Reinberger Gallery, on the value of arts education.

Nwoods_headshotI am a proud product of the SEL school system, from elementary school through high school. Upon graduation from Brush High School in 2008, I was accepted into The Cleveland Institute of Art on a scholarship, and studied painting. Some people would say that pursuing a career in the fine arts after the economic crash was a foolish one—that there are no real career prospects given a painting degree (real being the pejorative term to mean financially viable). I strongly disagree. The creative economy is responsible for over 704 billion dollars of yearly economic growth nationally, and employs over 4.7 million wage and salary workers. These industries range widely from independent artists and galleries, to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing houses, the theater and film industries, etc… the list goes on and on. Beyond strictly arts industry careers, studies have proven that an education in the arts promotes a level of creative problem solving that is useful in the business field. After all, aren’t successful CEOs often-labeled visionaries?

I participated in a number of influential arts programs in SEL schools that helped to foster a future passion for a career in the arts. At Greenview Upper Elementary, I started in band, which then lead to playing drum set in the school jazz ensemble at Memorial Jr. High, which lead to playing center snare in the high school marching band drum line. During this time I also developed a deep love for reading and making from the classes I took in painting, darkroom photography, ceramics, art history, AP Studio, and AP British and American Literature. All of these classes and activities created a ripple that began to expand its reach deeper, and deeper into my life. The effects of which were both nuanced and life changing.

I found role models in my art teachers and their seemingly never-ending passion for their craft, and dedication to their students.  What other public high school had the privilege of working with art teachers who were also professional artists? I saw fellow students engaged in ways that no other subject had previously interested them. The communities that resulted, were built on understanding, thoughtfulness, and non-judgment– and become a refuge for many who felt they had no other source of acceptance. Most importantly, these practices created outlets for self-expression, and in turn, helped to develop self-esteem and self worth for my peers as well as myself.

I am currently a practicing artist and the Acting Director of the Reinberger Gallery of the Cleveland Institute of Art. My job is to curate programming that connects with our students and neighboring communities, and to create artwork that I believe contributes to the culture at large. I attribute my career, successes, problem solving skills, and leadership confidence to the strong foundations set by the outstanding arts and liberal arts education programs at SEL schools. I can say with certainty that I would not be the person I am today without these direct influences. You don’t have to look far to find hundreds of research based articles, online and elsewhere, lauding the importance of the arts in an education curriculum. I’m sure you would agree, that given our current climate, one of our best defenses towards hate filled rhetoric, is a robust education in critical thinking and thoughtful questioning. We want to create future citizens who care about their community, have the courage to question authority, generate hope in others, and the vision to build a better future. There are no better role models than the art teachers at SEL schools to help shape this future, and it would be a thoughtless shame to ever lose them.

To find out more about Nikki’s work, check out her blog:  www.nikkiwoods.com

 

Reflections on the Brush Art Program from the South Pacific by Jamie Bloss, Class of 2007

Jamie Bloss

Experiencing photography and painting classes with Ms. Hadley Conner and Ms. Sarah Curry was probably one of the biggest highlights of my high school experience for many reasons. I was a quiet person in high school and struggled to find a place where I fit in. I didn’t want much attention, and the dark room of Ms. Conner’s photography lab was a place I could feel safe and be creative and find a way to express myself. I feel that’s important for high schoolers now more than ever before. It’s really hard to navigate that time. It’s only been ten years since I was in high school but things have moved really fast and changed a lot. Not only were both teachers mentors and friends to me, but their art classes made me a more well-rounded person. It helped with my admission to college. It furthered my understanding of art and why it is so important.

Skills I learned in photography class help me to this day. Learning how to set up a scene in a photo is something that needs to be taught in design classes as well. Now when I am designing promotional materials at my job, doing the social media for it, taking photos at events- I can remember the basic tenets of photography that were taught to me then. My painting class was also a safe haven for me 1st period with Ms. Curry. I was always into doing watercolors and things like that but she taught me how to properly paint. This gave me a creative outlet that lasted through my college years and beyond. Now I have to design attractive displays at my library job and the drawing and painting skills I learned and honed in high school allow me to do that. No one ever told me when I was getting my master’s in library science at Kent State that you’d need that creative spark for marketing and museum displays, but it has helped me immensely. It’s those extra skills that help you stand out from the crowd when you’re interviewing for jobs.

After high school I completed my bachelor’s degree with honors from Kent State University in 2011. I obtained a graduate assistantship from the Kent State Honors College which paid for my master’s degree which I received in 2013. Since then I have held a library assistant job at the Kent State Geauga campus, then worked for a year as a librarian at Hudson Library & Historical Society. From there I applied for and received a 3 year contract to work abroad at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji which I am currently completing.

I know one of the most important things you need in high school are teachers who believe in you and foster skills in you that you did not know you had. I don’t know if later on I would’ve done as well in school and at university without kind teachers who gave us a way to express ourselves and believed in us. I know many people think the arts are unnecessary or don’t give relevant job skills. But the design and artistic skills I learned aid me every day in my work managing the social media for the library at the University of the South Pacific. I have to create museum displays and being able to put together a cohesive display with images and text is something that is taught through art programs. But- make no mistake- the fine arts stand on their own as well! I may be a librarian but I also know many people from Brush High School who went on to pursue degrees in fine arts and are very successful. My art skills helped me when I applied for the Kent State honors college and then they funded me through my master’s degree. When admissions workers look at college applications they look at you being a well-rounded individual- not just what job skills you may have learned in high school.

I often bragged to people after I left Brush that we had better darkrooms and materials than some universities even had. I appreciated so much the chance to learn those skills and find part of myself through art. I needed that as a high school student when I was having trouble at home. There are skills and benefits to be learned in the arts that other subjects don’t touch on. As a violinist I hope that students today have the chance to learn more about the arts- music, film, photography, painting, and more because what kind of a society would we have without the fine arts? Those are the things worth living for, not the mundane everyday jobs we hold. It’s possible to find a job with a way to earn money to live on and still appreciate the arts and grow up learning about them. They should not be defunded, abolished, or replaced with facsimiles of “art classes.” I hope Brush High School would continue their legacy of having stellar art classes for students. It will only help them as they develop into young adults and inspire them to reach further than their everyday expectations.

Betting on our Community

If the tragic loss of Alec Kornet has taught us anything, it has shown the power and love that exists in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst community.  We are there for each other in good times and bad.  What little we have, we are willing to share.  We’ve all endured the negative comments about our schools and our community.  We know what a treasure we have here, but  we forced to endure the barbs and slights that are based on “alternate facts”, not reality.  When a tragedy happens, the outpouring comes, reminding us of why we still call this place home.  We love this place.  We love each other.

horse-racing

The trick is finding the energy and time to keep this outpouring of love going every day.  We’re all busy–too busy.  Our email in-boxes are overflowing.  We have to be in three places at once.  Everyone needs our time and our energy.  We’re tired.  Yet, right now our kids and school district need us.  Public education is under siege at the federal and state level.  What can we do?  Acting locally is best place to start.

A group of hard-working busy parents have been planning an event that they’ve planned every year for many years.  The Brown and Gold Night at the Races is a fun evening for those who attend, but most importantly, it raises funds for scholarships for our graduating seniors.  This year, it will be held on  Saturday, March 11th at the Lyndhurst Community Center at 6 pm. Click here to get the form you need to participate.  It needs to be submitted by Wednesday, March 8th. Either mail it or drop it off at South Euclid City Hall.

How can you help?  Attend by purchasing a ticket for $25. Buy a horse for $25.  Buy an ad. Donate an item for a raffle prize. It’s an evening with good food and drink and a chance to be in the company of other folks who believe in our schools and our kids.  This is more important than ever.  This is what our community is about.  See you on Saturday.

 

 

 

A New Way to CARE about SEL Schools

On the evening of January 19th, 25 people came to the South Euclid Lyndhurst Public Library and spent two hours in a productive and passionate dialogue about our SEL Schools.  Personal stories were shared, rumors were confronted, hopes and dreams for the future of our schools were discussed, and an idea was born.

SEL CARES (Caring About Results for Every Student), is an idea that has come out of this conversation.  It’s a grass roots effort to involve more community stakeholders in our schools.  During the meeting, volunteers signed up to serve each school building, making the commitment to host informal meetings and get more involved in the schools by attending Board of Education meetings and staying present in the schools and with other parents. These groups hope to allay the fears of parents at times of transition to other school buildings, such as when students are moving from their elementary building to Greenview.  Parents who have already been through these transitions will host meetings to answer questions and hopefully reassure these parents of a smooth transition. Those in attendance felt that this was an important missing link and that many families are lost at transition times.

As many of you know, the SEL Experience Project is a grass roots initiative to share stories and dispel negative rumors about our school district that has led to white flight and community disinvestment.  This meeting was the second community conversation we’ve convened since beginning this work.  The conversation was important and eye-opening.  We wanted to share the highlights here to keep the dialogue going and increase community engagement.

Positives

Many personal stories were shared of the kindness of staff, teachers, and students who went the extra mile to help or made students feel accepted and helped them to excel.  The diversity of our schools was cited as a big positive, the majority feeling that it has led to students being more social justice oriented and inclusive. Academics are considered very strong at SEL Schools, and much pride exists for the new exercise science facility and all of the AP and enrichment programs like Excel Tech, that help make students career-ready. Art and music are considered strong programs that set the district apart. The incredible success of many of our students in academics, art, sports, and enrichment activities were cited as a positive. SEL students are going to great colleges and are out in world achieving high levels of success. Overall, attendees felt that it’s important to keep sharing the positive stories and use new methods of communication to reach the people who need to hear it the most.

Negatives

Among attendees, there was a strong feeling that the faculty are not as valued and supported as they should be.  There appears to be strife between the faculty and administration which is causing dissatisfaction among teachers and could result in the loss of good teachers as they pursue other opportunities, or apathy and a loss of teacher-led programming like clubs.  There was a feeling of a lack of transparency from the administration, especially regarding explanations about the funding  sources for new projects and the elimination of certain programs.  It was suggested that a bigger effort was needed on the part of the administration to recruit and retain families and staff.  The schools may not be effectively selling themselves to compete with private options and other districts. Police presence on Mayfield Road at dismissal may be causing additional negative perceptions.  The District may not be fully addressing the real concerns that parents have like discipline issues within the school buildings and on school buses.  Some concerns were expressed that sports is being emphasized to the detriment of academics.

Overall, it was felt that by increasing community engagement and by recognition of the concerns of faculty and a greater effort at team building, any negatives could be transformed to positives, building on all the great qualities already in place. It is our hope that all parties come together to keep promoting the many positives of SEL Schools, work aggressively to address the concerns, and help build the support of the community. It’s about working together for our kids. If you would like to be part of SEL CARES, please email us at selexperienceproject@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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.