Parents, Teachers Confront CH-UH Officials, Architects About Proposal to Close Gearity
Each of the facilities master plan design ideas proposed by architects working to renovate and rebuild schools in the CH-UH City School District call for closing Gearity Professional Development School, the only elementary school in University Heights.
University Heights residents, parents and teachers made it clear at a meeting Tuesday that they wanted to talk about one thing — the possibility that the only elementary school in University Heights will close.
Each of the facilities master plan design ideas proposed by architects working to renovate and rebuild schools in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District call for closing Gearity Professional Development School, which also houses a district preschool program.
About 40 people attended a meeting hosted by the school’s PTA and architects meant to tell residents more about the third design idea, to show a pilot program for the new structure of classrooms and to hear feedback.
Why Gearity didn't make the cut in proposals
But before the presentation moved to the Q&A portion, parents began firing questions and criticisms.
Why close the only elementary school in University Heights? Why close a ‘50s building that needs less work then some of those built in the 1920s? Why close the closest elementary school to John Carroll University, which partners with Gearity?
“Without an elementary school, it starts to feel like we’re not a part of the district,” one parent said.
Marc Ciccarelli, an architect with studioTECHNE, one of four firms working with the district on its plan and proposed cost, led the meeting. He said the cost of renovating each building, the population of students in each area of the district and proximity of the schools were a few considerations. (A student density map is included with this article).
Residents at other community meetings also stated that one priority was to preserve the 1920s buildings.
Rachel Mann said that she remembers when the former Coventry Elementary School closed, one of the reasons Gearity wasn’t on the chopping block is because of its location.
“It used to be a priority,” Mann said. “Why isn’t a priority anymore?”
University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld attended the meeting, and said she plans to host a town hall meeting about the possibility the school may close.
“I’m disappointed because in the past few years, the parents of this school have worked so hard and they’ve been successful, Infeld said. “I think this (master plan) is too much too soon ... The information is coming out very quickly, possibly faster than people can absorb it."
Parents asked Ciccarelli why there was not an administrator to answer their questions, and tension rose in the room. Superintendent Douglas Heuer, who was standing to the side of the audience, jumped in.
He explained that the number of students from University Heights who attend CH-UH Schools is low — out of the about 5,760 students in the district, 797 are from University Heights, 170 whom attend Gearity Elementary School. Gearity houses about 320 students.
And he said after the meeting that people must keep in mind this is still the planning phase.
“We’ll continue to hear from the community, we’ll continue to listen to the community and continue to make plans that are designed in response to the community," Heuer said, noting that the third design idea was created in response to what residents said about the first two.
Details of the third design idea, how it would impact Gearity
If the third plan was implemented, 121 Kindergarten through third grade students would move to Canterbury Elementary School, and the fourth- and fifth-graders would go to a remodeled Wiley Middle School, which would house fourth through eighth grades, Ciccarelli said in an email.
Heuer added that approximately 80 percent of the students are brought to Gearity on a bus.
Parents were not satisfied.
“If you yank the elementary school out, you’re never going to get the students in the public schools you want,” one parent said.
Others said they’d move if the school closed, and said they didn’t want to send their kids to Canterbury Elementary School. There are 191 University Heights students at Canterbury now, which is on a border of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.
On the 2010-2011 Ohio State Report Card, Canterbury was put on “Academic Watch” and met one out of eight state indicators, which measure attendance rates, student achievement in reading and math starting in third grade and other factors. The school received 77.9 out of 120 points in the performance index category.
Gearity met three out of eight state indicators, received 85.4 points and was ranked “Continuous Improvement.” Its score decreased slightly compared to the 2008-2009 school year, when it received 87.1 points. Third-grade achievement increased on assessments, but fourth- and fifth-grade achievement decreased.
Heuer said the goals of the new master plan are to improve each school design and increase student achievement, and to be more "fiscally responsible." And the renovation will incorporate CH-UH's plans to realign its schools to be associated with three pathways — society, discovery and creativity.
According to the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission, which concluded that the CH-UH buildings were antiquated and required a major overhaul and started this renovation process, the district has about 39 percent more space than necessary. The district has more than 1.2 million square feet of space now and the third plan would reduce that to 856,506, saving $3.5 million in facilities costs each year.
At its peak in 1962, the district housed 13,000 students, but projections estimate that 5,500 students will be in the district by 2017.
The cost of the third plan has not been announced, but the first two design ideas, which would close about a half a dozen schools, would cost anywhere from $200 million to $215 million and take five to seven years.
Teachers at the meeting said other teachers and parents aren't happy about the proposals.
“We need to hear some straight talk, and not persuasive talk. There is not a positive response to this,” said Joe Mendes, who teachers fourth-graders at Gearity.
Another said students can learn in any environment.
“We all know each other’s students, we are in each other’s rooms and collaborating, and we are already a team and don’t need that kind of space," said Beth Goldberg, an English Language Arts support teacher. "A space doesn’t make the character of the school."
Ciccarelli continued with the presentation, and Oxford Elementary School Principal Joseph Nicklos talked about Oxford's pilot program of the new school designs, which would create flexible classroom spaces that can accommodate small group work, large lectures and single classes. Science and arts programs would also receive better work space.
Parents chimed in again.
“It’s a nice plan, but we’re worried about having no elementary school in our city," said Dori Nelson-Hollis. “We want to hear from the school administration, not from an architect or the consultant. The school district should have the respect to deliver (this information) to the community."
"We really wanted to hear from families and give them time to talk," he said.
More opportunities to hear about the facilities master plan idea
The facilities planning team and PTAs at the schools will host more informational meetings to get additional feedback and answer questions. All are scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (except for one indicated below) and are open to the public.
Today: Noble Elementary, *6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
April 3: Oxford Elementary
April 4: Canterbury Elementary
April 5: Boulevard Elementary
April 18: Heights High Social Room — final idea and cost to be presented (childcare and refreshments will be provided)
Which PTA meeting did you attend? What are your thoughts about the facilities master plan? Tell us in the comments.