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Switching gears entirely, as I am wont to do, I’m excited to tell you all about a project I’m working on with the teachers at Fairfax. I’m not just sharing this because I find it interesting (and hope you do too), but because I’m hoping for active engagement from people both near and far.

The original Fairfax School, pictured in its historic glory below, opened in the fall of 1915. So this coming school year, our students will dive deeply into 100 years of history, with a special focus on what the school experience was like for young people in each decade.  Each month will be dedicated to one decade, with the first and last months covering fifteen years instead of ten (there’s only so much time our kids are in school, after all). It’ll be somewhat (okay, very) tricky to fit all of this in given the extreme expectations placed on our students and teachers in terms of Common Core content they need to master, but we’ll do our best to align the components of this project with the various learning objectives they’re already required to cover.

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The younger students will focus on concrete things, like what students wore to school, how they got there, how/what/where they ate their lunch and so on. I’m hoping for them to have as many physical artifacts to study as possible, including toys, clothing, and small appliances (cameras, telephones, radios, clocks) from each decade. If you happen to have anything that fits into one of those categories that you’re willing to share, please contact me.

The older students will look at local, national and global issues in each decade, considering how they impacted students’ lives. They’ll also focus on how public education has shifted over time, with desegregation movements both locally and nationally and the inclusion of special needs students. They’ll study technological, scientific and medical advancements, as well as the physical development of our community (hopefully creating a decade-by-decade 3D model of the homes, roads and businesses in the area between Lee, Fairmount, Coventry and Cedar). Any experts on that are welcome!

If you or anyone in your family went to Fairfax School, we’d like to have you come in to be interviewed by students, according to the decades listed below. If you aren’t local, interviews can be conducted via email or phone. For the earliest period (1915 to about 1930), we’ll take anyone willing to share their elementary experience whether they went to Fairfax or not. I already have contact info for two women who graduated from Heights (but not Fairfax) in 1933 and 1936, both willing to participate.

We also want photographs, whether class pictures or candids. We would love to see the inside of the original building as well as pictures of the demolition and construction in the 1970s. (One of my earliest memories is of watching the wrecking ball knock down the original building in 1975 or 76, shortly after we moved to Cleveland from New Hampshire.) We’d also love to hear about the transition from students or staff who attended both buildings. Any other paraphernalia (t-shirts, newsletters, concert programs, yearbooks, school calendars, work samples) that you’re willing to share would be enormously helpful.

Those of you not connected to Fairfax School can participate too. I’m hoping to arrange for a parade of cars from each decade, sometime in the spring (April or May 2016), so if you have a vintage car you’d be willing to drive over, that’d be awesome. If you have any historical expertise, whether focused on Cleveland Heights or on the world, we’d welcome your input, as well as any physical artifacts (or storybooks) that show the ever-shifting face of time.

The community, and especially all alumni, will be invited to a Living Museum celebration at the end of the school year, next June, where students and staff will showcase all they’ve learned over the course of the year. This project should be a meaningful, hands-on way to connect our current students to both history and to the community around them, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to share some of our project with other schools that will reach this milestone in the near future.

Ideas, thoughts, questions, suggestions? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or on Facebook.

September: 1915-29 
October: 1930-39
November: 1940-49
December: 1950-59
January: 1960-69 
February: 1970-79 
March: 1980-89
April: 1990-99
May: 2000-2015
June: Culminating project

When state report cards get released right in the middle of a school campaign, both sides are bound to seize upon them as proof that their cause is the right one. Well, guess what? State report cards were just released and they prove that our cause is the right one.

Most of the measures on the state report cards have remarkably little to do with what goes on inside a school and much more to do with what goes on outside a school. Study after study has shown that scores on standardized tests (what much of our report card’s grades are based on) do not reflect the quality of a teacher’s teaching or a student’s learning, but instead simply reflect the socioeconomic background of the particular children in that particular district. Look closely at a school’s test scores and you can make an educated guess about how many of those children’s parents went to college and how many of those families are living in poverty. Our local test scores reflect that as well.

The state report card’s only real measure of how much a teacher is teaching in the nine months that he or she has a certain student, and the report card’s only real measure of how much a student is learning in the nine months he or she is enrolled in school, is “Value Added.” (Let me say here that there are many, many other measures of how well a teacher is teaching or a student is learning that aren’t easily quantifiable and therefore not considered on our report cards, but that’s a post for another day.) Value Added means pretty much what it says it means: how much academic value was added to that child’s educational life in the course of that one school year? And the measurement is straightforward: assess a child’s abilities and skills in August or September (how well they can read, what their math skills are, and so on) and then assess again in May or June. This shows one of the few things we can measure that’s actually worth measuring: their academic growth.

Here’s how the Ohio Department of Education describes Value Added: “This is your district’s average progress for its students in math and reading, grades 4-8. It looks at how much each student learns in a year. Did the students get a year’s worth of growth? Did they get more? Did they get less?”

There are four categories on which districts are graded: Overall, Gifted Students, Students Achieving in the Lowest 20th Percentile, and Students with Disabilities. And for the second year in a row, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District earned A’s in every category of value added: A, A, A, A.

This means one thing: Our teachers are teaching and our students are learning.

But how can this be, one might ask, when many of the other test performance measures are low? Consider this scenario, some version of which our schools face every single day: A 4th grader moves into CH-UH from another district, reading at the first grade level. That child is placed in a small class with a reading specialist to learn the necessary skills to become a reader. Imagine he works extra hard, as does his teacher, and demonstrates one-and-a-half years’ worth of growth in that one school year. That’s awesome! That is better than expected and means he succeeded, with the help of his teachers, in moving from reading at a first grade level to reading at halfway through a second grade level. It also means, unfortunately, that when he takes the 4th grade PARCC test in reading, he will fail (especially because the PARCC uses reading material at one to two grade levels above the grade being tested). And that’s the result that people will point to in the newspaper to say that our district is also failing. And yet, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The kind of growth that student demonstrated, as evidenced by CH-UH’s four A’s, points out an important truth: Our teachers are teaching and our students are learning.

Now, some of the naysayers (we have naysayers, in case you hadn’t noticed) might assume that this Value Added category must not mean much; maybe it’s easy to earn four A’s. I will show you, through comparison with other districts, that it is not. I don’t mean to put these other districts down (I know and love many people whose children go to school in them and they no doubt outperform us in other categories), but such a side-by-side look is necessary to understand that it is not, in fact, easy to earn all A’s in Value Added.

Our neighbors to the south (Shaker) earned D, A, C, C (see the categories listed above to refresh your memory). Someone may say, “Well, their kids are clearly doing too well to begin with to even show that much growth.” But then I would reply, “Look at Solon, who earned B, A, B, A.” Hudson earned A, A, C, A, which is sort of revealing (maybe they don’t have the same kind of experience we do in CH-UH at reaching the lowest achieving kids and helping them grow). Other districts widely believed to be doing a great job educating their community’s children, are (Beachwood earned A, B, B, A — almost as good as Heights). And this is not one of those cases where starting with low scores benefits you (as in, then you have more room to grow); East Cleveland earned F, F, C, C. Two districts that we’re often compared to (Lakewood and Euclid) earned A, D, A, B and A, D, A, A respectively, which shows that CH-UH is doing a noticeably better job meeting the needs of our highest achievers and helping them grow as well.

I don’t honestly believe that levies should become referendums on the performance of school districts, but they very often do. I have seen, time and again, in the comments of the anti-school folks: Where are the results?

Well, here they are. The results show that our teachers are teaching all our students, from the one with disabilities to the one identified as gifted. The results show that all those students are learning, from the one who started at the bottom to the one who started at the top. Now those are what I call results.

Every time a local school issue appears on on the ballot, an army of district parents try to convince the general public that our children are “worth it,” that they “deserve” a publicly funded education. We share all their praise-worthy achievements and announce to everyone who will listen that our local kids placed third out of 37 teams at last weekend’s Robotics competition or that our middle schoolers hold a regional record for victories at the Power of the Pen, or that the Barbershoppers ranked first in the world last year at an a cappella competition. I write blog posts about how “nice” my boys’ peers are and drone on about how much science and math content they’ve learned.

But you know what? This isn’t necessary. Or it shouldn’t be. Of course our kids deserve a publicly funded education. All kids do. Free, appropriate public education is a cornerstone of our modern democracy and we cannot raise productive, engaged citizens without it. We cannot come close to claiming to be a land of opportunity if there is no opportunity.

Here’s the deal: Our local school district is asking for voter approval of a 5.9-mill operating levy in less than a week and I happen to be one of the chairs of that campaign. And I’m sick of trying to convince people that our community’s children, even those who are poor, even those who are black, even those who might seem disengaged or irresponsible, are worth their support and their tax dollars. In my opinion, that support should be automatic.

Let me explain a little about the wonder of House Bill 920. I know, a blog that covers childhood cancer and now the nuances of school funding in Ohio . . . what a way to build a following! But bear with me a bit because it’s actually fascinating, in a hard-to-believe-that-could-possibly-be-true kind of way.

In 1976, at the height of rising inflation, the Ohio General Assembly passed HB920, which froze all tax revenue going to schools (and public libraries, but not city or county governments) at their 1976 levels. Not at a percentage or a rate, but at the actual dollar amount. The only way to increase that incrementally is with voter approval of new operating levies. I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect any district anywhere to provide an education in 2015 with the same amount of money they had in 1976.

But even when levies are passed, the need for additional levies never goes away. The state has cut $2 million in funding to our district in the past few years, not to mention what we lose due to foreclosures or reduced collections on property taxes, or the nearly $1 million going from our district’s budget to charter schools this year (including those that are completely disreputable and only out to make a profit) and more money still to fund vouchers. What all this means is that the district has LESS money with which to operate than it did when our community passed the last operating levy in 2011.

The money this levy would generate wouldn’t lead to raises (aside from agreed-upon step increases for teachers) or anything new; it would simply allow us to maintain. Because districts are legally required to balance their budgets, ours would have to cut $6 million if the levy doesn’t pass. That would undoubtedly impact every aspect of the district, from classroom teachers and programming to administration. That’s not an empty threat as a campaign tactic; it’s our duty and responsibility to tell people honestly what will happen if this fails. Another sad truth is that if this fails, the need for money will not go away and the district will have to come back again and ask for approval of a new levy. Again, not a threat, but a fact.

There has been much talk lately about administrative costs and I truly hope people will read this section carefully because it’s important that we all understand what we’re talking about when we say those words. The Ohio Department of Education requires districts to categorize all certified staff who don’t provide direct classroom instruction to students as “administrators.” This means that the salaries of our social workers, counselors and psychologists all fall under “administrative costs.” Do we spend more than most in this area? Yes, because we are doing an excellent job meeting the varied and complex needs of our largely impoverished student body. In addition to the “typical” social and emotional issues social workers help students with, ours also ensure that our district’s homeless students have daily transportation from their temporary shelters to their home school buildings. Or that the child who can’t see the board but can’t afford glasses gets in touch with the right agency who can provide them. Or that our young mothers access the services they need to stay in school and graduate.

The counselor in my sons’ elementary school hosts a lunchtime book group for students struggling with social issues. She organizes the Girls on the Run program for our 3rd through 5th grade girls who need both extra physical activity and a way to build self-confidence. She manages the Peer Mediators who help find peaceful resolutions to conflicts during recess. She attends every single IEP meeting for the many students in our building with special physical, emotional or learning needs and is constantly working directly with students, either individually or in small groups, all day every day and often well into the evening. Our social workers and counselors work tirelessly to ensure that all students and their families have access to shelter, food, electricity, running water, medical care and clothing so they can come to school ready to learn. This is not what you may envision when you hear the word “administrator.” They’re not sitting in some fancy corner office with their feet up on a desk (not that our actual administrators are doing that either, of course!).

Another piece of the administrative costs puzzle requires just a quick explanation: For the last year for which the ODE published data, our district’s teachers asked that their salaries be spread out over twelve months instead of the usual ten, but those final two months happened to be in the next fiscal year. This was a one-time recording issue, but it makes it look like the district spent one-sixth less on instruction than it actually did.

The other complaint that we frequently hear is that our taxes are too high (even when they’re offset by affordable housing). It helps to understand some of the historic reasons behind our local tax structure. The very things that make our community special also mean that we pay more in property taxes. Years ago, residents fought against the construction of freeway exits both where the Shaker Lakes Nature Center now sits and where the Cedar Lee Theater is. I’m glad to not live near a freeway (except when I need to get to one, of course!) or the industrial parks and chain restaurants that inevitably pop up around them. I’m glad to live in a neighborhood that values its small, independently owned businesses and green spaces. But, without a large commercial or industrial tax base, a heavier burden is placed on the shoulders of individual homeowners. This is unfortunate, but it’s also reality. We must keep our community strong and we can’t do that without strong schools. And strong schools require basic operating funds.

Please join me on Tuesday, May 5th in voting FOR our children, our schools and our community.

If you live in the Heights, you’ve surely heard a lot about Reaching Musical Heights in the past twenty-four hours. And with all good reason. Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of attending this every-four-years event where 500 4th through 12th grade vocal and instrumental musicians from all the CHUH schools performed on the world-renowned Severance Hall stage. Each time I’ve gone to this show, I’ve been blown away by the dedication, passion and talent of our district’s young people and by the commitment, hard work and willingness to collaborate of our district’s teachers. This year was no different.

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There were many highlights, including watching Braedan and his elementary peers sing an adorable rendition of “Jump, Jive and Wail,” complete with a backward-leaning shoulder shimmy. But what really impressed me — and what was different from past RMH events — was the powerful and unanimous message sent from our music teachers. As the various groups moved about the stage between numbers, the teachers and Reaching Heights staff took the microphone to introduce songs and thank guests and ostensibly kill time while chairs and music stands were (noisily) shifted into place and students (quietly) filed in and out of risers. But this year, their speeches weren’t just time-fillers. They were heartfelt messages, poignant pleas to the audience members to 1) Continue to support — nay, to demand— strong arts and music programming for every child at every grade level in our schools (yes, please); 2) Take a firm stand against the excessive over-testing of our youth and the narrowing of the curriculum that inevitably attends such a short-sighted focus (yes, please!); and 3) Keep our community strong by protecting our Heights schools and approving necessary school levies (YES, PLEASE!).

Oh, I suppose there might have been some (a few?, this is the Heights we’re talking about) people in the audience who were there solely to listen to the music and didn’t want to hear anyone’s political agenda. But the reality is, there will be no music to listen to if we don’t do those three things. Our schools and our teachers and our children are under attack by forces so much larger (and so much better funded) than any of us would have dared to imagine just a few years ago. This is a dangerous time for public education, not just here where our schools have been long misunderstood and underestimated, but everywhere.

So, you know what we do? We stand up, together on a stage usually graced by world class musicians, and we sing and we play and we make beautiful music. And we do it together. In a way that says, loud and proud, “This is Tiger Nation.”

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One of my favorite moments was when 2012 graduate Geoffrey Golden, the recent winner of BET’s Sunday’s Best (“the gospel version of American Idol”) joined the current students on stage. He spoke of how meaningful and formative his early years in district music programs were, of overcoming adversity and not quitting after his first failed attempt at making it on the show, and of how necessary and important music and arts programs are to keeping kids fully engaged in school. This is a young man who you might assume would try to turn his obvious musical talent into a lucrative career, but is instead an econ major at Morehouse. Economics? Ha, I love that.

After he spoke, he accompanied the gospel choir on piano and then sang a rousing rendition of, well, let’s be honest here, I don’t know squat about gospel music, but he was damn good. As he backed off the stage to thunderous applause, he shouted something twice into the microphone. People were cheering wildly and I couldn’t hear a word he said, but was told by Dallas sitting behind me: “Your work is not in vain.”

And that, right there, those six little words, meant everything to me. This was a message to parents, who do more for their children than their children will ever realize, and who do it quietly and without seeking recognition. Your work is not in vain.  And a message for teachers, now blamed by conventional wisdom for all of society’s failings, who labor and love and bend over backwards for the students in their care. Your work is not in vain. And for those of us who do the volunteer work, the thankless PTA tasks and the equally thankless and sometimes reviled levy campaigning. Our work is not in vain.

We cannot give up on this, we cannot quit, even when the tide seems to turn dangerously against us. Even when public opinion is hell bent on using illegitimate test scores to measure our collective worth. Test scores that fail to adequately measure the quality of our teachers and the quality of our students. And that certainly — certainly! — don’t measure the quality of our music programs (among the best in the nation — why doesn’t that generate newspaper headlines, why doesn’t that count for getting kids “career ready”?).

I’ve closed out both of the two recent Heights Coalition for Public Education forums with the same words, the last in a list of ten action steps, and I think they bear repeating:

Stay. Stay engaged, stay informed, stay involved. Stay in our communities, stay in our public schools. These institutions are the cornerstones of our democracy. Moving away, pulling out, or otherwise giving up will not make these problems go away. Work with us to overcome the challenges and to celebrate our successes. Stay, stay, stay.

Your work, our work, is not in vain.

This will be the final installment in my Why You Should Vote FOR Issue 81 series, followed — I hope! — by tomorrow’s Thank You message. I had a couple other posts drafted in my mind but Halloween and pumpkin carving, muffin baking, costume crafting followed by Mark’s birthday complete with a party got in the way.

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But I do feel like this campaign has covered every base we can think of, and I hope we have no regrets when those ballots are counted tomorrow evening. So, without further ado, my final plea:

In my last post, I wrote so much about the responsibility our school district has in educating poor children that it almost sounded like they are our only audience. Indeed, they are not. Our schools serve many children from highly educated, professional middle and upper middle class families. And they do it well.

The very thing that is our district’s greatest challenge is also its greatest strength: the extremely diverse range of backgrounds, cultures, abilities, needs, values, educational levels, priorities and perspectives of our students and their families. We are not just one thing to one group, pigeon-holed as a poor urban district or an affluent suburban one. We are a little of this and a little of that. And while that is difficult and expensive, it is also incredibly valuable. For every special ed teacher and guidance counselor, social worker, intervention program, or night school for teen moms, there is also an advanced science and math class, foreign languages starting in kindergarten, award-winning vocal and instrumental music programs, Power of the Pen, Model U.N., courses for college credit, and extra enrichment programming. And kids from all backgrounds participate in and benefit from those wide and varying opportunities. And it is this rich diversity, this microcosm of real world problems, challenges and achievements, that make our district so unique.

I am proud to send my children to these schools and I am proud to do it as a choice. I know many others who could afford to send their kids elsewhere but don’t because they know that they’re getting all they need and then some in CH-UH. I know families who have pulled their children out of the area’s most prestigious private schools precisely to access the academic rigor they’ve only found in the Heights Schools. Our district’s graduates go on to the nation’s top tier universities, state schools and community colleges. Some move straight into trades and others join the military. Some become or are already parents. These students represent the broad and varied world in which we live. And our schools are working hard every day to prepare them for it.

I sometimes wish the discussions around this bond issue focused solely on the physical realities of our buildings. But the conversations have veered, as they so often do, into the realm of what our children deserve. “Our” children, “their” children, “those” children. Blame has been placed on the shoulders of kids and especially teens who don’t always behave the way we want them to. I actually saw a comment on someone’s Facebook page that suggested that the district construct new buildings for the kids who “want to learn,” and use a GPA cut-off point to determine who gets to move into them and who has to stay behind. “Let the others earn their way to the nice stuff by improving their GPA in the existing spaces,” this woman said. And, because she just couldn’t help herself, she added, “They’ll only destroy the nice stuff anyway.”

Wow. Is that who we are? Is that who we want to be?

Let me tell you something about my own kids, who happen to be high achieving and well-behaved elementary students. If left to their own devices (literally and figuratively), they would sit on the couch and play video games all day. They’re not hard-wired with some “want to learn” gene. They do their homework and practice their instruments because I make them! Because my husband and I model responsible behaviors every single day and have since they were born. Someday, by the time they’re in high school, I imagine they’ll be self-motivated and self-regulated enough to do what’s right without being told. But if and when they get there, it will only be because we laid the foundation here at home.

There are plenty of kids without that. Who are essentially going it alone, without the guidance or role models that are inextricably linked with success. Some of these kids will find something deep inside themselves and will thrive against all odds.  Others will squeak by, doing just the bare minimum. And some will be disruptive and even destructive, fighting back against a world that has always seemed unfair to them.

Leaving those kids in classrooms that are swelteringly hot, with leaky ceilings and moldy locker rooms, while waiting for them to “prove” themselves, is not the answer.

I believe that my two sons deserve physical spaces that are inspiring, comfortable, safe and healthy. I believe that they shouldn’t be subjected to wild swings of temperature or rusted, leaking roofs or over-stretched mechanical and electrical systems that are costing all of us way too much to maintain. I believe they deserve state-of-the-art science labs and modern technology, access to the best athletic, musical and performance spaces, and buildings they can be proud of. And I believe that the kid sitting next to them in class, the one whose mom works three low-wage jobs and may not have time to read to him or ensure his homework is completed, deserves the same kind of spaces. And even the kid next to that one, you know that kid? The one whose mother failed to show up at her scheduled conference — again — because she didn’t bother to read the reminder that came home because she doesn’t bother to read anything that comes home … I believe that kid deserves the best kind of spaces in which to learn. If we’re gonna make this issue about who deserves what, about how we value our children and the children of those around us, then so be it. I value all of them. Even the ones who are failing. Even the ones who screw up. And I believe that they all deserve safe, healthy, inspiring, comfortable and, yes, beautiful school buildings.

That’s why I will vote FOR Issue 81 tomorrow. And that’s why I’m asking you to join me.

I had a job interview last Wednesday. For a third grade position at Boulevard. This is really good because it means the district has hired back all the previously laid off teachers and is now finally looking at outside candidates.

The interview was all going well — my experience and enthusiasm make me fairly confident about my performance for such things. Until they asked the final question: What makes you the best candidate for this position? And in the split second while I considered how to sell myself for this job, I realized that I didn’t want it, that I wouldn’t accept it if offered. I only want to teach at Fairfax. I am in the extremely fortunate position of being able to turn down anything that doesn’t perfectly meet my needs or mesh with my life. And, nothing against Boulevard or its staff or families, but if I hold out and manage to get something at Fairfax, even if it’s down the road, my kids’ lives won’t be disrupted all that much. I could go from not working at all (well, that’s a debatable description of my current situation) to working full-time without any change in childcare whatsoever. My kids could leave after me in the morning and walk to school on their own, needing only to lock the door behind them. They could go home by themselves after school if they weren’t engaged in some PTA-run activity like racquet club or tumbling class or bike club. They wouldn’t need before-care or after-care or anything outside of what Mark and I could provide ourselves.

So, I paused for a moment before saying, “I actually don’t think I am the right candidate (now THAT’s not what they tell you do to at job interviews!) because I only want to be at Fairfax.” Hmmmm, that was followed by an awkward moment. We chatted a tiny bit longer and then it was ,”Ok, thanks, goodbye and good luck . . .” I emailed later, apologizing for wasting anyone’s time and explaining myself a bit more articulately, which the principal responded to with appreciation for my honesty. And that was that.

Back to wait and see. Choosers can’t be beggars, after all.

Twenty-four (or should I say twenty-three?) hours from now and I’ll be sitting back and counting up the dough. (Heck of a weekend to lose an hour, huh?) But right now, it’s time for that last final push.

After raising our event goal by tiny little amounts, from $10,000 to $15K to $18K and then to $20K and finally $22K, I decided to just go for it and make a goal that is actually a goal, as in something we have to work hard for. So right now, our goal is $30,000, but I think even that might be easy.

You all are awesome. All of you who’ve donated or who are shaving and raising money from your own circles. It has been really awe-inspiring to watch the numbers go up every single day, to see all these little kids, five-year-olds and seven-year-olds, bring in amounts nearing or surpassing $1000. What a huge statement you are making, on behalf of Austin and on behalf of sick children the world over. I, we, thank you.

Yesterday morning, I went to Fairfax and spoke with the three second grade classes about cancer. The sixty combined kids sat quietly on the floor and listened carefully the entire time. I think the weeds-in-the-garden analogy really really worked for them. The best was in the beginning when I asked what weeds do to your garden and one child said, “They can spread through the dirt and wrap themselves around the roots of healthy plants.” Another piped in, “They can use the sunlight and the water and the healthy soil that the other plants really need.” Uhhhh, yeah. Just like the Big C.

Towards the end of my 45 minutes, I had the eight second grade boys with green hair stand up to be acknowledged for their bravery as shavees.  One of the teachers reminded the students that a vocabulary word for the week was “noble.” “What these boys are doing is a noble act,” she said. Well, noble is not a word I use very often but that captured it pretty perfectly.

Speaking of the incredible acts of kindness committed by these young children, my dear friend Peter Richer, who organizes the AJ Rocco’s event as well as one at University School, has thrown down the gauntlet. He has issued a challenge to see who can raise more money: the shavees at our Cleveland Heights event or those at the University School event next Thursday. They have 53 shavees and a female teacher, just like we do, and are currently trailing us with $25,884 raised to our $27,437. Of course, all the money goes to St Baldrick’s and so, no matter where it comes from, that’s a good thing (and I am, of course, proud of and touched by all the US boys shaving too). But you know I love a little competition and you know my support of our community and our public schools is something of an obsession, so I am accepting this challenge and am determined to win. Our event has shavees from Cleveland Heights, University Heights, Shaker Heights, Lakewood, Bedford, Solon, North Ridgeville and beyond, including an impressive nineteen students from the CHUH Schools, and that is certainly something to be proud of and to celebrate.

So…if you’ve been thinking about giving, NOW IS THE TIME. Every dollar matters. Every dollar saves lives.

Austin is here, Braedan is here, 4th grade teacher Kristi Glasier, who is sending a loud and powerful message to her students, especially the young girls, about what really matters in life, is here.  And the event is here.

The transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas seems to get shorter and quicker every year. So now that we’ve all moved on to the next big thing, it’s time to think about giving.  Every year, I encourage my kids, with limited success, to weed out their toys to make room for the inevitable mass of new ones. And this year, we have lots of good options for what to do with all their extra stuff.

First (and this one is just brilliant), The Smead Discovery Center at the Natural History Museum is accepting broken plastic toys — yes, that’s right, all those tiny broken pieces that have no home or game parts with no game, the junk that clutters up the bottom of toy baskets and drawers in every room in the house.  They’ll take it all, more than just the action figure parts they accepted in the past, as long as it’s smaller than 12 by 6 by 6 inches. They then send them to the Toy Lab in Cincinnati where kids make them into new toys in an arts and science lab (how cool is that?).  But they’re only accepting donations through November 30, so get busy.

Next, two lovely organizations with which I’m affiliated are having toy sales next week.  Both Family Connections, where I sit on the board, and St Paul’s Coop, where Austin attends preschool, will be collecting new and gently used toys and baby gear over the next week.  Check out their respective websites for all the necessary details: Family Connections and St. Paul’s.

And finally, the one I am most excited about: Go Public! Great Schools Are Everybody’s Business, which is a grassroots movement to foster stronger ties between Cleveland Heights-University Heights community and the public schools, is having a learning material toy drive.  The motivating idea behind this is that children can’t learn if they don’t know how to play and they can’t play if they don’t have the right toys.  As I’ve mentioned,  a significant percentage of the students in CHUH schools live in poverty and I’m certain that few of them have appropriately educational toys in their homes.  I’m not talking just about flashcards here, but books and puzzles, legos and building blocks, art supplies and board games, anything that requires imagination or creativity.

The counselors at each of our seven elementary schools will identify the 10 to 20 neediest families in each school, who will then receive a box of gently used and/or new toys to take home before the holiday break. If you have anything to share, please consider this opportunity as it has an immediate positive impact on the identified students and their entire families. For those of you who think your materials would be too young for elementary students, everything will be sorted into age categories, including pre-K and K, which will be hugely beneficial for the younger siblings in our students’ homes.

There will be collection boxes at all seven elementary schools and Coventry from Monday December 5 through Friday, December 16.  I spent hours and hours today going through all the various baskets and containers that store toys (and bits of broken plastic) in our mudroom, living room, both boys’ rooms, and the third floor playroom. I weeded, sorted, repaired, repackaged and boxed up a storm.

It was much-needed and very satisfying and, most importantly, can truly make a difference to a child in need.

I’m back and mostly recovered from my recent non-stop campaigning for our local school levy. I was eating, breathing, sleeping CHUH for a few days there, hence my uncharacteristic absence from the blogosphere. But we had a resounding victory here, with the community stepping up and supporting public education despite tough economic times.  The margin of victory was larger than any I remember, a whopping 14 percentage points.  Dare I say the tide is turning for the Heights Schools?

Last night, we hosted an Open House for prospective kindergarten families at Fairfax, of which we are one.  I watched Austin stand up there next to his future classmates, awaiting a turn at the SmartBoard, and I was struck by what a big and capable kid he has become. I’m pretty sure he would have been fine in kindergarten this year, but I have no doubt that we did the right thing giving him one more year of preschool.

I had his first parent-teacher conference of the year this morning and she said he is doing fabulously. Both academically and socially, he is absolutely on target — better than on target: he is thriving.  And it is really a joy to see.

He plays nicely with everyone, boy or girl. He is always engaged in classroom activities (as evidenced by that little tongue sticking out), and especially likes the weekly “challenge.”  He is getting mighty close to reading and has a mathematical mind that blows me away (much like his brother and unlike his mother).

His teacher has created a magical environment where the children believe they are just playing and yet learning is infused into everything they do. Each activity and project is carefully selected to enhance some specific skill, either academic, social or physical. I wish every child could experience this kind of classroom before moving into the big (structured) world of kindergarten.

For Austin, I know that this was a decision we will not regret.

First of all, as a follow-up to Halloween, yes, Austin did wear his rocket ship costume and, yes, he did indeed love it.  He was racing around shouting, “Intergalactic! Intergalactic!”  We did have some wardrobe malfunctions though, due to tripping on the flames as he climbed people’s steps. And twice, we needed to borrow staplers from random houses to re-staple him into his costume.  Next year, I’ve vowed to let him wear a much less cumbersome one so they can really run. But I’d certainly say that a good time was had by all:

And now, I apologize for the extreme local-ness of this but Cleveland Heights is abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. Our high school’s nationally recognized and award-winning musical department will be performing The Sound of Music four times, a production that includes more than 600 students from all eleven schools in the district. (There are two full casts so 600 kids aren’t performing each night.) We happen to be going to the show on Saturday night which just happens to be the same night and same time and same location as Heights High’s first ever playoff football game, following our team’s undefeated season.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a bit of a scene out there. Between the sold-out show and the sold-out game, the district is expecting more than 5000 people (and hoping none of them plan to park a car there!). Mark was able to get some tickets to the game, so he and Braedan are going to that instead while Austin and I are bringing two families of potential CHUH students to the show.

I’m not sure if the diaspora of Heights readers know this, but this year every school adopted the Tiger as its mascot.  There has been a big push over the past few months to cultivate a sense of unity and pride in the district as a whole instead of in each individual school. As you might imagine, there’s been some resistance to this, especially from the middle schools who each have their own sports teams and colors and logos. But over the past few weeks, as the levy campaign has kicked into overdrive and as the music department has begun advertising its shows and as the football team (and girls’ soccer team) have been racking up win after win, there is a renewed sense of pride in the community. People are really coming together,  celebrating the successes of each student, club, team, event, building as their own.

It reminds me of our trip to the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The German team was doing well while we were there, having advanced a few rounds despite some heavy competition. The German people and media kept talking about how this was the first time they had felt free to come together and wave their flag with such pride after its long and tortured history of national pride gone awry. After all, nationalism in Germany turned into Nazism in Germany. In 2006, when reunification was still fresh in the minds of many, this opportunity to rally around something, even something that may be considered trivial like a soccer team (not that soccer teams are ever considered trivial in Germany) was truly meaningful. On a smaller scale, it feels that way here, right now. We have something to cheer for. In fact, we have many somethings to cheer for. And cheer for them, we are.

So, in order to further that feeling of belonging to something special, I tried to buy “Tiger Nation” t-shirts for my kids. I have one, as our PTA was selling them in adult sizes. And I know some of the other schools’ PTAs have sold them for kids, but the district had run out and I was getting frustrated, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. So, thanks to Logos on Lee (owned by a Tiger), I ordered 100 youth-sized black short-sleeved t-shirts with “Tiger Nation” in gold lettering across the front, (20 each of extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-large). They’ll be ready Saturday morning and I will bring them to the levy lit drop distribution in the parking lot near the Heights football field at 10am.  Then I will sell them near the main entrance at Fairfax from 10:30 to 11:30. After that, you’ll have to send me a message and come get yours at my house.

They’re 7 dollars each, which is what I paid for them, so I won’t make any profit at all.  I just want to see another hundred kids showing their Tiger Pride on Saturday (or any day!). Let me know if you want me to save some aside for you. Or, if you happen to be a member of that great Heights diaspora, I’m more than happy to send you some.

Hear that tiger roar.

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