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An Alternative to Public Schools: Community School Solution Becoming Reality

Monday, November 6, 2000 at 1:24 PM

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One of the big issues in this presidential race is education. Many public schools are in crisis throughout the country, including the Cleveland Municipal School system. Three years ago the state legislature came up with a solution. It passed a law creating charter schools now called "community schools" as an alternative to public schools. For the first time since 1997 individuals and private organizations that want to start a community school can apply to the Cleveland School district rather than the state. 90.3's Tarice Sims takes a look at the ongoing debate over the pros and cons of having community schools.

Tarice Sims- In the information packet that the Cleveland Public School district sends to prospective managers, community schools are described as small personal learning environments. These schools have the freedom to make their own management decisions, although they are funded by the same state dollars as public schools. Last school year the Cleveland Public School system received over $306 million from the state - roughly $11 million was deducted for state controlled community schools in Cleveland. Essentially, if a student moves from a public school to a community school the money moves too. That’s the main problem with community schools, according to Jim Lardie, president of “For the Children” a non-profit child advocacy organization based in Cleveland.

Jim Lardie- For all those who want to say it isn’t about the money, it is a lot about the money, and as a matter of fact children are growing up with lesser opportunities to be educated. Then we ought to be putting more money into those systems so that we would be able to create the special programming that would enable them to compete successfully and have a happy life.

TS- Other detractors of community schools argue that the financial affects may not be felt if 1 or 2 children left, but if 10 or 20 students went to community schools, the public school system would definitely feel it. But, community school supporters counter that since the money travels with the student, no funds are actually lostÑit’s still being spent on the student. The Cleveland Public School District believes that through supporting educational reform strategies like community schools, student achievement will improve. Leaura Materassi is Executive Director of Program Development for the district.

Leaura Materassi- I think it is clear that if we look at the parents and students as clients, I think that is one of the messages that the 21st century educator, educational system is going to have to look at in terms of finding ways to provide wider range of choice to parents and students providing ways to encourage and develop smaller learning communities for students and our policy will allows us to look at the creation of new schools.

TS- The educational performance of Cleveland Public School students has historically been low. Today, roughly two-thirds of its high school students won’t graduate. In the inaugural issue of Catalyst, a trade publication for local educators, Cleveland school CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett said she really believes in the whole notion of public schools and has struggled with the concept of community schools. But she said it would be better for the Cleveland school system to have some control over whose in charge of community schools so that properly trained educators would be the ones determining the standards. But regulation by the school district raises many concerns. For instance, community schools may share state money earmarked for public school students, but may not be mandated to operate under the same guidelines set-up by the state. “For the Children’s” Jim Lardie.

JL- I do think that there is a very strong argument for keeping all the public schools together and motivating the entire system to work better. And one of the points that I would make is with all due respect to the people left in the system, one of the reasons that it continues to get worse is because the people who would have challenged it left.

TS- In Cleveland, the goal is to construct a subset of schools that share ideas and beliefs with the public school district, while creating a less restrictive learning environment.

The Cleveland Municipal school district says community schools can be used as a model of what works. And according to the Ohio Department of Education’s Pam Young, that’s a good attitude to have and educators on both ends should embrace this educational competition.

Pam Young- Now having been both a public school administrator and a traditional setting and now looking at the directorship of Ohio’s community schools I can say that there is a tension then but the tension is good for all of us to move toward an excellent continuum of services for all students

TS- Petitions to either start up a new community school or convert an existing public school were accepted last week. Applications will be due by December 31, 2000, with hopes of opening the first district supervised community school in Cleveland, next school year. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 FM.

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