Covering Northeast Ohio schools has been a real education
‘Tis the season to reflect on what we’ve done this year, and where we’re going. Right now, I’m thinking back on a busy last few months of education coverage in Northeast Ohio since I joined Ideastream Public Media in August.
Most recently, the topic of student misbehavior, discipline, safety and public order in school has loomed large at Akron Public Schools.
Parents and teachers have rightfully been concerned about high-profile incidents suggesting the safety of the schools has been compromised, from two students being arrested for bringing loaded guns into school to a student being stabbed. But there’s a broader, more nuanced conversation that I think has been missing from headlines that the entire district is having.
For one, it’s not just about physical security. Students have really been struggling mentally and emotionally since the pandemic-related school closures ended. But even before that, students from poor families (23% of Akron lives below the poverty line) experienced and are still experiencing no shortage of challenges: homelessness, hunger, parents in jail, losing family members to gun violence, the list goes on. The same is true of many Cleveland public school students.
The Akron Board of Education and Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack have been having the hard conversations during recent public meetings about balancing safety and the need for accountability without criminalizing the district’s kids, who are mostly students of color. Research shows you can’t expel your way out of the problem.
But it’s going to take hard work — way beyond some new metal detectors and a few new programs — to create a positive, safe school environment that also helps kids through the tough things they’re dealing with, even as they’re acting out.
Meanwhile, negative perceptions of the district’s kids aren’t helping them. Check out these comments from student board member D’Essence Jackson — a bright young star who’s on her way to big things — during the recent APS board meeting. It will give you a far better sense of it than I ever could give you.
Moving on to Cleveland, the story of the year so far has been one of transition, even beyond the ending of pandemic mitigation measures. CEO Eric Gordon surprised many — including folks with the Cleveland Teachers Union and others typically in the know — when he announced he would be stepping down in September.
Gordon and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb presented a unified front during a recent City Club of Cleveland forum, with Gordon repeating he stepped down because the time is right, rather than any external pressures from Bibb or anyone else. And Gordon threw his support behind Bibb’s vision for a broader youth agenda, which his successor will likely have a big hand in helping to bring to fruition, considering Bibb’s approval will be needed in tandem with the school board’s.
We’ve been waiting for roughly three months to get records back from the city’s public records office on communications between Bibb’s office and the school district around the decision for Gordon to step down. We’re hoping those records won’t be heavily redacted. (The city better come up with a good reason if they are redacted.) It's our goal to share an inside look at the deliberations that occurred.
Finally, I wanted to wrap up this column with a note of gratitude. I volunteer my time to work with a group of CMSD students on a student blog that I started in a previous role in Cleveland with Report for America. I work on it in partnership with Gayle Gadison at CMSD.
It’s incredible to work with these students. They’re funny, smart, insightful, hard-working and keep me on my toes. Check out some of their recent work below:
- Chardon Black’s interview with CEO Eric Gordon on how the district defines and supports diversity is great, and we played a portion of it recently on the "Sound of Ideas."
- Kayden Ferris is our resident poet and she writes beautifully about tough topics.
- Aaliyah Abdul-Basit is a new addition this semester and she wrote a great piece exploring students’ mental health challenges in high school.
And I want to take a moment to note how incredible Gayle is. She’s worked at CMSD for years and knows the district well. The Unsilenced Voices of CMSD blog would be nothing without her. On top of her normal job, she organizes the massive endeavor that is the Civics 2.0 civic engagement program at dozens of CMSD schools, and she takes time to really make the Unsilenced Voices of CMSD a successful program.
Through her efforts, the students are paid for their work on the blog (as long as they meet their deadlines!)
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