Tell us about your SEL Experience!

Tell us about your experience at SEL Schools, and we may share your story on our blog and on our social media networks. Please answer the following questions for each separate family member who you think we should profile and return to us at: selexperienceproject@gmail.com. Please include a photo and the best way to contact you for more information!

What is your name and what year did you graduate from SEL Schools?

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

What are you doing now and where do you live?

What activities were you involved in while at SEL Schools?

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

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

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

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Ms. Hadley Conner

Ms ConnorHadley K Conner, Chair of Brush High School’s Art Department, is unforgettable. You may have seen her showing her photography work in galleries around the area, performing on the stage at music venues throughout Ohio, or cruising around town in her 1964 Galaxie 500 XL.

Employed by the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District since 2001, Ms. Conner teaches Photo 1 & 2 and AP Photo, but in her estimation, she’s really teaching the closest thing to actual magic. “Analog Photography is important because it teaches the science, the craft, and the magic of the photographic process. There is a general movement to go back to making things by hand, and working in the lab and darkroom is an experience. As each successive generation is more and more engaged in electronic devices, a creative classroom that leaves digital technology behind is an important and rewarding break from screen time.”

Although digital photography is the common practice these days, and while Ms. Conner does incorporate it into her program, she feels analog photography is such an important foundation that she has been known to drive out of state to obtain donations for the Brush darkroom. As a result of her efforts, Brush has an impressive darkroom and one of the only large color print processors in the area. Since the majority of the equipment has been donated, the program has been developed and maintained at an extremely low cost to the district.

Ms. Conner’s passion for photography and the arts has made a significant impact on Brush students. The number of students requesting to take classes in art and photography continues to increase each year. Brush has a strong performance at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards each year, with 15- 30 students on average winning regional, and sometimes national awards for their art. As a testimony to the effectiveness of the program, Ms. Conner remarked that between 10 and 15 students in an average senior class at Brush go on to pursue art degrees in college.

In addition to teaching and managing the Art Department at Brush, Ms. Conner is a well-known and award-winning working artist. With a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and a Master’s degree from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Ms. Conner shows her photography throughout the region and is on the Advisory Board for the Cleveland Print Room, a gallery and community darkroom focusing on analog photography. Ms. Conner teaches a variety of photography workshops at the Print Room and enjoys staying engaged in Cleveland’s vibrant art scene.

Along with her photography, Ms. Conner is the lead singer for 45 Spider, a band that includes her husband. Playing regularly at music venues throughout the region, Ms. Conner enjoys the collaborative process of performing with a band and finds that there is a tight connection between the art and music scene in Cleveland. Performing in 45 Spider, “is a lot like teaching in the sense that you’re delivering a message and the audience reaction often determines your next move and the outcome of the show (or lesson) “

Ms. Conner loves teaching in the district and says that the students’ enthusiasm for art keeps her motivated. “Brush is a microcosm of the world. Our students are cosmopolitan. They’ve been exposed to art and culture, likely due to the school district’s proximity to Cleveland’s many cultural amenities”. According to Ms. Conner, this appreciation for the arts has led to a vibrant arts scene at Brush and a commitment to the arts among students. Ms. Conner looks forward to continuing to foster and nurture the creativity of Brush students for many years to come.

Mr. Justin Tisdale

Mr. Justin Tisdale is a Brush High School alumnus and social studies teacher in Capturethe South Euclid-Lyndhurst City Schools. After moving to the district in the fourth grade, he finished his education at SEL and graduated from Brush in 2000. He then enrolled at Notre Dame College and stayed in the community upon earning his degree. He currently resides in South Euclid with his wife and daughter.

When asked about his experience at Brush, the first word that came to mind was “fun.” He said the teachers taught what was necessary, he enjoyed the company of his classmates, and it was, overall, a good experience. He also noted the sense of community within the school building. “No matter how bad the football team was, and they were pretty bad, you could always expect the stands to be packed Friday night.” His favorite memories include Homecoming Top 25, assemblies, and simply being in high school. Mr. Tisdale says the school has changed most in how education is approached. “There’s less freedom for teachers,” he says. He also believes that there is a lack of respect for authority, which could be a shift in overall generational perspectives. “I think most notably and specific to Brush is that the school spirit is gone.” In what ways hasn’t the school changed? “There is still no sense of cliques at the high school.”

The district’s reputation within the community is troubling, Mr. Tisdale shared. “The perception isn’t great, and a lack of communication with the community has caused this perception to worsen.” He says the shifting demographics have also affected the community’s view on the public schools. “Most of the students are good kids, but it’s the small group of troublemakers that brands the whole school that way.”

Mr. Tisdale’s initial goal was to help kids reach their potential, which served as the catalyst to becoming a teacher. He initially taught at Riverside High School in Painesville, but came back to Brush because he saw the opportunity for him to serve an important role. “I felt that at Brush I had the ability to serve as a positive Black male role model to the students. I wanted to prove that it was possible to not fall into the negative stereotypes and give them guidance in achievement.” He has served as a basketball in previous years, and could often be found working sporting events. “It was great seeing the students play and interacting with each other outside of school.

In his time as both a student and educator, Mr. Tisdale believes the Brush experience has changed, depending on perspective. “Testing has taken away drive for the whole school community,” alluding to the state-mandated tests instituted in the past 15 years. “There’s also been an influx of transient students, who often view Brush as a school rather than a home. It’s hard to build community if you’re not sure if some some students are going to be there from year to year.” Above all, he believes the Brush experience and high school in general should be enjoyable. “It should be fun for everyone. It shouldn’t be viewed as a job. School is best when we work for the kid’s success and enjoyment.”

Mr. Andy Harkey

Mr. Andy Harkey wasn’t always a high school social studies teacher. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he spent almost 15 years working in the political realm of Washington, DC. “After graduating from [UNC Chapel Hill], I didn’t really have a set career plan. I knew I liked politics and history and government, so I took a paid internship with a congressmen and it turned into a full-time job.” He spent 9 ½ years working for congressmen in the House of Representatives, before becoming a lobbyist for the American Financial Services Association. “Working in Washington was a very exciting and interesting experience.”

After moving to the Cleveland area, he managed a small business for some time before deciding to make a career change. “In Washington, I met a Vietnam War veteran who was passionate about the importance of teaching history. He taught a night class at the University of Maryland and invited me to help out. After that experience, teaching became a possible career option for me in the back of my mind.” He enrolled in the Masters of Education program at John Carroll University and his intern program placed him at Brush. “That’s what led me here.”

How does he feel about his time teaching? “The staff here at Brush is really good. I think we have some of the best teachers in the state, and I’m confident about the quality of instruction we offer.” Mr. Harkey also believes that Brush and SEL still offers a tremendous variety of opportunities to any type of student. “Even through the rough economic times and waning community support, we’ve still managed to offer excellent educational opportunities to our students.”

Mr. Harkey hopes that our political environment will swing back in favor of public schools. “It’s an important foundation of this country.” His time at Brush has introduced him to great kids who have gone onto do great things. He’s thankful for the relationships he’s had with former students, who still take the effort to let him know what they’re up to. “I’ve had some really great students.”

Ms. Sarah Curry

Sarah Curry 1

Ms. Sarah Curry is a 15-year art instructor at Charles F. Brush High School, teaching the courses of painting, advanced painting, and AP Drawing. A native of Shaker Heights, Ms. Curry studied at Kansas City Art Institute before returning to the Cleveland area. She and her friends have recently started Artful, an organization dedicated to sharing studio space on the east side.

Unlike many teachers, Ms. Curry didn’t have a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. “I wanted to do something in art, but did not intend on ever teaching.” For a long time she, didn’t particularly like kids. “I hated kids and I hated high school, which is ironic seeing as I’m a high school art teacher now.” What changed her mind? “I wanted to be the teacher I never had: in terms of both learning something and just having someone to talk to.” She states the most rewarding part of her job is the relationships formed with her students. “I still hear back from students I had my first year of teaching, which is really awesome and I think it’s a testament to the schools and the teachers.”

What is so appealing about the “Brush experience?” “The respect that the students have for each other’s differences,” insists Ms. Curry. “The school has a wide array of cultural, economic, and social diversity, which I think is great for the kids.” She was filled with words of praise for her students. “These kids are awesome. They’re talented and creative and really want to do something, if given the opportunity.” Her advice for students? Be smart without your smart phone.Sarah Curry 2

Ms. Curry is incredibly thankful for the great support of the arts throughout the school and the community. “It’s a great outreach, and the more we can do the stronger the roots will be between the community and the schools. We need to start seeing youth as a positive force as opposed to a negative component.”

Mr. Thomas Bennett

Mr. Thomas Bennett, an English teacher at Charles F. Brush High School, has been teaching in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City School District for 20 years. A native of Rocky River, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated from Duke University with degrees in English and Philosophy. He returned to northeast Ohio to work in his family’s plastics business, serving as a salesmen for 15 years. He is an avid sailor as well a convert to Judaism. Once presented with the opportunity, he fulfilled his longtime goal of becoming a high school English teacher.

When asked on his thoughts regarding the “Brush experience,” he noted the strength and rigor of the upper level honors and AP programs. “Those courses have been solid for years,” explained Mr. Bennett, who teaches 11th grade honors English. “I’ve really enjoyed working with my students throughout my career.” His one complaint is the increasing lack of focus among students of this new generation, which he blames mainly on technology. “It’s become a huge distraction in schools.” A class with Mr. Bennett is not complete without an oratory on the negative consequences of cell phones. He looks back on his time at Brush with fondness, with a great appreciation for his colleagues. “I was in the middle of two generations of teachers, with those who retired in the 90s and those who filled their shoes.” The most difficult part of his job would probably be discipline. “[Discipline] is always the hard part about teaching high school wherever you go.” Still, he has greatly enjoyed his time teaching and the relationships he has built with his students.

Mr. Bennett ended his interview with insightful observations and words of wisdom regarding our changing culture. “Society’s values are shifting. We’ve sadly become more materialistic, chasing after affluence.” He notes that student motivation is down due to the rise of electronics. “It’s unfortunate,” he noted. While he states that his time in the classroom  has been rewarding, he wouldn’t recommend going into the teaching field in today’s age. “Teaching was once a very prestigious profession, and it seems that the respect for it has crumbled in recent years.” He hopes to see teaching return to a “noble profession” in our society.

Mr. Bennett has been a professorial fixture within the halls of Charles F. Brush, engaging his students in philosophical discussions regarding America’s greatest literature. His “Great Gatsby Dinner Party Skit” is a favorite project among the juniors in his honors class. He is just another example of the excellence that can be found in the faculty within the SEL schools.