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I know I have readers spread out over the country and even (a few) over the world, so I apologize for the hyper-local nature of the upcoming blog posts, but home is what’s most important to me and this stuff needs to be said.  If you care about public education in your own community, keep reading and always feel free to take my insights and use them as you see fit in your own education-equity battles.

Our school district has a bond issue on the November ballot to fund much-needed renovation and repairs of the high school and two of the three current middle schools. This is Phase 1 of what will be a two-phase ten to twelve year project that will impact all eleven buildings and all 5,500 students in the district. I have worked on this issue for two years and believe it is deeply necessary.

As with all contentious political issues, confusion, misconceptions and misinformation abound.  I’ve been busily crafting a counter-argument to the most common concerns and have finally decided, in the interest of time and space and in order to get things published by our local media outlets, (most of whom have 200-word limits) to break this down and address them one by one. I will post every other day for the next week or so until I feel all angles have been addressed. And I ask you to please SHARE every one of these updates: Repost them on your Facebook page, tweet a link, email them to your undecided friends, colleagues and neighbors. Even if you don’t live within the CH-UH boundaries, if you know a single person who does, share share share. Information is our best weapon.

I do not claim to be the repository of all knowledge and facts regarding this issue, but as a member of the Lay Facilities Committee that recommended the plan that the school board ultimately approved and as an active member of the steering committee for Issue 81, I do know what I’m talking about. And I obviously care deeply about the future of our communities and especially our public schools.

So, with that long intro behind us, I present the first common complaint about this bond issue: Why are the buildings in such bad shape and whose fault is it? Has the administration ignored the needed upkeep, thus creating an ever-growing backlog of work?

The buildings are in bad shape because they are nearly one hundred years old, plain and simple. If anyone is to blame, we can only point the finger at Mother Nature and Father Time. Maintenance and upkeep is done every single day on every building by a team of dedicated custodians and laborers, whether they’re repairing a leaky roof or ensuring that classrooms are heated. The “backlog” list which is often referenced is not a static document, sitting untouched on a shelf. It is constantly changing and every single time an item is completed and moved off the list, another new item is added. The piece-meal, patch-work quilt of maintenance we’ve relied on for the past four decades simply isn’t enough anymore. It wastes tax-payer dollars on expensive and inefficient systems and doesn’t give us anything better for our efforts. We need a massive overhaul of our buildings and Issue 81 will give us that.

Most of us live in old homes and know that maintaining them is an unending process.  I am a good homeowner, but my house just turned 93 and we feel its age every day. We recently had a pipe burst in our second floor bathroom. Naturally, it leaked, causing damage to the wall and ceiling in the entryway below it. To replace the pipe, the original plaster and lathe walls and ceiling had to be broken into and then majorly repaired. This was both expensive and time-consuming. Did it happen because we were somehow irresponsible? Were we mismanaging our money, turning a blind eye to obvious needs?  No. It happened because my house is old. Period.

Our schools are old as well. The eroding and corroding electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems at the high school can no longer be subjected to band-aid repairs. The district has some funds, from a 2002 improvement levy, designated for the constant upkeep of its buildings. Any other discretionary funds the district has had over the past few years have been diverted away from maintenance to use for innovative and necessary academic programming.  That is why the so-called backlog never seems to shorten. Our crews are like gerbils on a treadmill, constantly running but never reaching their destination. The time is now to do one, big, bold renovation to fix these problems for the next fifty years.

Come to the high school this Wednesday, October 16 at 6:30pm for a tour and see the need with your own eyes. You’ll have the distinct pleasure of visiting the boiler room, which reaches 110 degrees in the winter, viewing the Pit of Death from which we pay someone to remove the pigeon carcasses twice each year, and braving the moldy, mildewy locker rooms below the pool. The buildings are old and they are falling apart, with no one to blame but time.

The need, my friends, is real.

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I’ve finally uploaded all of Dallas’ pictures to a Kodak Gallery, found here. I have more to add from both Mark’s and my dad’s cameras. The cool thing about these public galleries is that you can all add your photos to the one album and then we’ll have a huge array of images to look at and choose from to represent that very special day.

Also, I finally received a link to the piece on Fox News. There are actually two, one from last Sunday and another from this past Friday that has our event intermingled with the A.J. Rocco’s and U.S. events. (U.S., by the way, has passed us by, having raised a total of $46,365 with 65 heads shaved. Oh well, it was all in honor of Austin and it all goes to the best place.  But … next year!). The clip of our event (the second one down) is sort of silly because the cameraman picked the worst possible moment to interview me, right between introducing people and while Breadan was shaving (which I completely missed).  But I’m pretty sure I had done a fine job, explaining St. Baldrick’s and the value of raising money and awareness and so on, when he asked me how this all makes me feel. How does it make me feel?  Well, you can see my jumbled response! I was trying to say something about Leah, because she had just finished shaving and the shock and awe and emotion of that moment was still fresh in my mind. But I got sidetracked and first mentioned Kristi and finally ended up looking over my shoulder to catch a quick glimpse of Braedan and whatever I said after that is laying on the cutting room floor.

Oh well, I guess they captured true emotion.

Speaking of true emotion, Saturday was another really special day. Just really … special.  These past five years of being involved with St. Baldrick’s has made St Patrick’s Day into a pretty significant holiday for our family.  And this year, with the boys being the national face of the head-shaving campaign, that significance has only grown.

We headed downtown into an extremely crowded and party-like atmosphere in the mid-afternoon. AJ Rocco’s was as crowded as ever, if not more so. We pushed out way through to the back where we gathered with family and friends and climbed onto a bench so we could watch the festivities from on high.

Finally, it was our turn and we pushed and shoved and squeezed our way to the stage in the corner. Mark and Kirk and Jay were all shaving together, with special permission granted to Braedan and Austin to help with Mark’s shearing. I love this photo below as the MC announced that it was us on the huge poster on the wall:

And then they began.  Braedan, naturally, hopped up and grabbed those buzzers and happily started shaving Daddy. Austin, naturally, hung back in my arms until watching his big brother have all the fun made him jealous enough to brave the crowds and he too scooted into Daddy’s lap and took his turn. Once they got started, there was no stopping them.

I have moments, every once in a while, when the enormity of all we’ve been through hits me like a ton of bricks.  All the years of fear and worry, of calling the hospital “home” and of waiting through eight and ten hour surgeries, of poking and sticking my poor boy’s battle-scarred body, of never knowing what fresh horror the next day might hold. And it came crashing down around me, right then as I felt so overwhelmingly relieved to watch my two healthy children shave their father’s head, so incredibly honored to have them represent this very special event the whole world over.

Now, some of you may say, “That’s great, let the feelings come, don’t hold back.” But really, standing in a crowded bar on a holiday in the middle of downtown Cleveland is neither the time nor the place to really break down. So I shed a few tears and choked the rest back and took a lot of pictures and cheered them on, so full of pride and amazement at how we’d come through, so grateful for all the love and support we felt and still feel around us.

And then it was over. They were done and stood up to show off their nicely shaped domes. Then it was more beers and sending the kids home with their aunt and take-out so we could spend the rest of the evening celebrating.

There was one other moment worth mentioning though. As you might imagine, bringing your kids into any downtown bar on St Patrick’s Day in Cleveland is risky business. And while A.J.Rocco’s has given our city a huge gift by hosting this event over the past ten years, it is, nonetheless overcrowded with post-Parade partiers.  Most of the people were there specifically for St. Baldrick’s, but some had undoubtedly wandered in off the streets.  And while mine were not the only kids there, they were among just a handful. So, as we were waiting our turn, tucked away in a corner, this one woman walked by a few times and shot some very dirty looks in our direction. Later, as Mark was watching one of our nurses shave her head, with Austin perched on his shoulders, this woman leaned in to say, “He shouldn’t be here.”

Oooh, man, I wish she’d said it to me because I’ve been fantasizing about what I’d have said back ever since Mark told me. But my husband, Mr Cool and Collected, just calmly replied, “You’re gonna regret saying that in about ten minutes.” She clearly had no idea what was going on there that day.

Because of every one of the hundreds of people squashed into that narrow little bar, Austin deserved to be there most of all.

Do these kids need a haircut or what?

Braedan complained that it’s hard for him to read at school because his bangs cover his eyes! And yet, they’ve been refusing haircuts for months in anticipation of next week’s big shave. But now we’re getting closer and that “free” haircut will be theirs in just six days.

Our event currently has 45 shavees, including eleven students and one (female!) teacher from Fairfax School and nine preschoolers from St. Paul’s.  We’ve raised more than $19,000 and I keep slowly upping our goal, now set at $22,000. I am very confident we will reach it.

Please know that you are all welcome to attend and cheer on our brave young (and not so young) shavees. You are also welcome to make large (and not so large) donations on their behalf. If you really want to feel like you’re doing something but aren’t quite willing to go under the razor, the event will have a Bake Sale with all proceeds going to St Baldrick’s so you’re more than welcome to bake shamrock cookies or green rice krispie treats or whatever your specialty.

Find us at the Cleveland Heights Community Center, buried under mounds of hair, this Sunday, March 11 from 1 to 4. Shaving will begin by 1:20 and four shavees will be shorn at once. We have a balloon twister coming from 1:15 to 2, dancers from the MacConmara Academy of Irish Dance from 2 to 2:30 (and then sticking around to teach their moves) and the award-winning men’s acapella group, the Heights Barbershoppers, from 3 to 3:30. And, if you find yourself so moved, you can sign up to shave then and there!

 

Now that we have those beautiful posters, we need to get them out!

Please let me know if you want posters and and other promotional materials for your school or youth group. I have a letter that can go to your PTA or school counselor explaining the event, plus a list of tips for making it more exciting (everything from challenging a teacher to shave if a certain amount of money is raised to allowing registered shavees to come to school on Friday March 9 with green hair). I have flyers that can be customized by schools that can go home with every student, and a small stack of pocket brochures complete with our event’s information for interested students.

If you own or work in a business that would be willing to collect cash donations for our specific event, I have small circle “badges” where donors can write their name that can then be posted on your wall. (You know, how they do it at grocery stores if you give an extra dollar or five to combat hunger.)

The event itself is shaping up to be quite fun. I have twelve girls from an Irish dancing troupe who will come from Akron and do a half-hour performance.  They will then stay to teach their moves to any interested parties. This should be especially fun for the sisters of shavees who might otherwise be bored (unless we can convince them to get up there themselves!). I think I also have the award-winning acapella Barber Shoppers from Heights High coming to serenade us.

I’ve been talking with our mayor about encouraging a friendly competition between the local police and fire departments, so we’ll see if I’m successful on that front. But that would be pretty cool for the kids, especially if the fire trucks appear.

And perhaps most excitingly, we have a female teacher at Fairfax willing to shave her head if her school’s team raises at least $5000. My dear friend and old colleague Kristi Glasier has sacrificed herself up as the motivator for her students to get in on the act and raise some serious money.  In light of that, I have convinced Braedan to change his team name from Team Braedan to Team Fairfax. His team, as of this writing, is still only one shavee strong (ie, Braedan) but we have verbal promises from many. Any current or former Fairfax students are welcome. Kristi is fundraising on her own head with the hopes of raising an additional $10,000! So visit her page and help her reach that goal.

If you’re willing to do this, please sign up right now! Event page here, Team Austin here and Team Fairfax here. If you’re signing up more than one child in your household, you’ll need to create two different user names and passwords and then log in separately for each shavee. You can then personalize their pages with photos and messages.  The easiest way to fundraise is to send a mass email to your friends, neighbors, family and colleagues with a link to your child’s page. People can then donate directly to their page using their credit card (which saves the organization both time and money).

If you’re still interested in helping out on that day, I’m planning to have baked goods: one free item to registered shavees and available for $1 to all others, so baking cookies is definitely on the list of tasks. Besides that, we’ll need some sort of drinks (anyone have an in with a grocery store to request donated water bottles or juice boxes?) and green balloons in the front of the Community Center. Oh, I would love to have the event photographed (using something other than a cell phone!), so that may be a good way to get involved.

And — not to be forgotten — Mark has indeed signed up and will be shaving as the captain of Team Gallagher down at AJ Rocco’s on St Patty’s Day. He needs some brave souls to join him! If you (or your husband) really want to shave alongside your child, it’s fine to register at the Cleveland Heights event. Otherwise, join the adult fun after the St Patrick’s Day parade and be part of the throngs of shavees at one of the country’s most successful St. Baldrick’s events. You won’t regret it!

All are welcome that day to cheer on the shavees, whether you’re leaving bald or not. And, of course, donate donate DONATE.

I figured we better put all this media attention and celebrity to good use.  After years of bemoaning the fact that there wasn’t a good alternative to the very adult event at AJ Rocco’s, I’ve decided to host a St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event specifically aimed at kids and teens.

Mayor Kelly has graciously and enthusiastically offered us the use of the Cleveland Heights Community Center on the afternoon of Sunday, March 11, one week prior to the big event downtown. St. Baldrick’s provides a huge amount of support but, in order for this to be a success, I need YOU.

Here’s the scoop: I need two people who would like to serve as Treasurers. I have a document I can email to you if you’re interested that lays out all your responsibilities.  Almost everything can be done from your home computer leading up to the event and then you’d be responsible for collecting any cash or check donations on the day of the event.  (People are strongly encouraged to donate online prior to the event itself, which eases up the burden on the Treasurers and is the most efficient and cost-effective for St Baldrick’s.)  You would need to complete an FBI background check, but it’s all done online and is a piece of cake (honestly, you just enter in your birth date and social, no fingerprints or anything). I also need a Registrar, who would be responsible for registering shavees prior to and on the day of the event (but I will help out enormously in that regard). Whoever takes that job also needs a background check. The lovely ladies from Cut Studio on Lee have agreed to serve as volunteer head-shavers, so you know you’ll be in good hands.

If you are interested in either of the above roles or just in helping out in general, please let me know and I’ll forward you all the necessary materials. St Baldrick’s has been running these events for twelve years now and they make the process as easy as possible.  I’m sure there will be lots of little jobs in the days leading up to it, including things like baking cookies or buying bottled water. If you have any fabulous ideas about how to make this a fun family-friendly event, I welcome them.  I’m going to reach out to Flower the Clown to see if he’ll donate his time to make balloon animals for the kids (unless someone knows him well and wants to take this on).

I also have letters ready to go out to all the public, private and parochial schools in Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and University Heights.  Children and teens from anywhere in Greater Cleveland are welcome, but I’m starting with a manageable area where I have lots of natural contacts.  If you want a letter to give to your school counselor or PTA or anyone else you think might be good at rounding up shavees, leave a comment here or on Facebook and I’ll forward you a copy.

And of course, the most critical component of the day: we need SHAVEES. We need brave young souls willing to go bald to stand in solidarity with all the children who lose their hair during treatment. I know it is a big commitment (one I am shying away from myself), but kids, and especially teenage boys, are the perfect participants (they’re so much less vain, you know). Feel free to form a team, either from your school, sports team, youth group, neighborhood or even family.  Teams can have as few as two members or as many as you can recruit. Shave in honor of a child battling cancer or choose one off the St Baldrick’s website (Austin, of course, is available to be honored by any and all!).   If you’re a grown-up thinking about shaving, please register at the AJ Rocco’s event on the following Saturday, following the St Patrick’s Day Parade downtown.  That is a fabulous event that raises more than $200,000 and I don’t want to draw anyone away from it (we’ll definitely be there).  But if for some reason, you’re unable to attend that one or if you still fall into the “youth” category (or know someone who does), please consider making this huge and public statement on behalf of kids with cancer.

To register, please click here.

As St Baldrick’s says, it takes all of us to conquer kids’ cancer.

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.

Hi ho, it’s off to work we go.

Daddy wears a tie to work every day, so, naturally, yesterday the boys insisted on wearing their ties (left over from a wedding many years ago) too:

Once downtown, they quickly raided Mark’s candy jar before smiling for some photos:

Then today, we visited Braedan’s new classroom, although have yet to meet his teacher.  We did, however, encounter a few “big kids” on the playground who described her as both “great” and “awesome.” I almost paid them off in bubble gum to see how that lifted Braedan’s spirits.

And later, while doing our last minute school shopping, I suggested buying a new blue soap dispenser for our downstairs bathroom until Braedan, with an exasperated huff, said, “Mom, that’s glass! Don’t you think we’ve had enough trouble with glass lately?”

I guess it’s time for that child (or his mother?) to go back to school.

In other unrelated news, remember that old house on Edgehill?  Yup, still for sale.  We almost sold it in July but ultimately turned down what we thought was a terrible offer. We’re now selling it ourselves and it’s listed here on For Sale By Owner. Please, please, please, share that link with anyone you know you might be looking for a house in Cleveland Heights. We’re hosting an Open House this Sunday from 12 -2, so send any and all possible interested parties on over.

It truly is a wonderful house, but happens to sit in that in-between price range: nicer and more expensive than a typical first home but not so large or fancy that those untouched by the economic downturn would choose it. For most of our potential buyers, it would be a second house upgrade, which means they have a first house to sell, which means (of course) they’re deciding to wait it out.

But, you know, I look at this and know I can’t complain too much about anything:

Alright, here goes . . . I have tried to keep myself from writing on this topic because I know it is a deeply personal one for many families, but as the school year draws near, I cannot avoid it any longer. And I know I am bound to offend many people, people I really like and consider my friends, if not by my scathing indictment of our nearby parochial schools than by my frank discussions about race relations, and I am sorry for that, but, well, here goes . . .  

I live in Cleveland Heights, an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland that prides itself on its diversity. The population is roughly half black and half white, spans from extremely wealthy to those living in poverty, encompasses a plethora of religions including a large and active Orthodox Jewish population, and is an all-around fascinating place to live. I was educated in the public schools here and I think I speak for many of us when I say that the “real world” education we received was unsurpassed.  In addition — and this is important — my academic eduation, the actual classroom material (as opposed to the endless hallway material), was extremely rigorous. I went on to a prestigious liberal arts university where I worked very very hard, but I was never challenged quite the way I was at Heights High.

One of the interesting outcomes of living in a community like this one is that I have always felt (relatively) free and comfortable talking about the taboo subject of race. We were exposed, from a very young age, to all of the disparities, the differences, the similarities, the stereotypes, of one racial group or another.  And we addressed them head-on with both honesty and respect.  Issues of black and white were an integral part of our upbringing and we had to talk about them openly. This has been a great gift throughout my life, and one that few people I’ve known were lucky enough to experience. I remember during my senior year, the Unity group of which I was a member was concerned with the self-segregation of our school’s sports teams. Black kids and black families went to basketball games to cheer on the mostly black players, white kids and white families went to hockey games to cheer on those mostly white players. We decided to offer a two-for-one deal when you bought tickets to either team’s games. I will never forget sitting with our group of black guy friends at their first ever hockey game as they were duly impressed with the rough and rowdy behavior both on the ice and in the stands. We were all reminded of a lesson we thought we already knew: to focus less on the color of the players’ skins and more on the color of the players’ jerseys.

All of this is a very long introduction to something that has been bothering me enormously as I prepare to send Braedan off to kindergarten in this very same school dicstrict. The make-up of our community has not changed all that much in the last twenty years, but the make-up of the schools has, as more and more white families send their kids to private and parochial schools. Now I know this is a very individual decision that can be based on many factors, including family history and a child’s specific needs.  I also know some families feel strongly about their children receiving a specific religious education. And I have no quarrel with that. But I am disturbed and upset by the families who assume that the public schools aren’t good enough for their children simply because of the other kids who go there.

Now I know that’s a huge accusation to throw out there and that a lot of your hackles are raised right now, but I do hope you’ll keep reading. When comparing the three nearby parochial primary schools with the public elementary schools, there is absolutely no question, no debate, about which provide better, more rigorous and well-rounded academic instruction. First of all, the teachers in our public schools are among the best educated in the state of Ohio in terms of the number of Masters degrees and PhDs, as well as being certified in the subject they teach. And yes, that matters, big time. The person standing in front of your child all day every day, determining what material to cover and in what manner, guiding them and inspiring them, should be the best educated. I don’t see how you would choose anything but.

The curriculum in our schools is rigorous and varied and includes specialized instruction in the visual arts and music, as well as physical education and technology. The middle schools and high school offer many foreign languages and high level science and math courses. The well-known secret among the district’s teachers (and remember, I was one) is that the kids who transfer from the local Catholic schools into the public middle schools (which many do when their parents realize they need something more rigorous to prepare them for high shcool) are on average one full grade level behind in math, science and social studies.

So, I’m just feeling frustrated. I feel frustrated and disappointed by parents who claim they want to use the public schools, but then don’t. Who believe that they are actually doing their children a favor by protecting them from kids with a different background or different life experience. Who condemn our schools as “dangerous” or “out of control” without ever giving them a try.

I don’t need more white families to use the public schools in order for them to be good enough for my kids, that is not what this is about.  I just wish more white families believed the schools could be good enough. For all of our kids.

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