Superintendent Highlights Accomplishments, Addresses Concerns
Superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District discusses successes, struggles and solutions during State of the Schools speech
The evening of the State of the Schools address for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights district started on a celebratory note.
The Heights High Barbershoppers performed three songs Wednesday night before they traveled to sing in the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Las Vegas Midwinter Convention. People in the Cleveland Heights High School Social Room gave them a warm standing ovation.
It seemed like a tough act for Superintendent Douglas Heuer to follow.
Heuer transitioned by highlighting the successful people who have graduated from Heights High, the technology initiatives implemented this year, the dedication to arts, the diversity of the community.
He said that 70 percent of Heights High grads pursue a post-secondary education upon graduation, and 85 percent of those students complete their education.
“I could spend a lot of time going into detail about this and the excellence of this district, but that’s not why we’re here tonight,” he said. “You’re here to learn about the state of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools, and you’re going to hear what I hope is a very straightforward and honest answer.”
He addressed three primary concerns:
- 30 percent of third graders are not reading at grade level
- 20 percent of freshmen don’t advance to the 10th grade
- State officials have told schools to prepare for a 15 percent budget cut
In order to help students, especially in third grade and younger, read on level, he is proposing that the school expand the district’s preschool program and is planning to give first- through third-grade teachers professional development to become reading specialists.
In addition to devoting extra attention to elementary school students, the district is going to focus on ninth graders by adding a “freshman experience” program next year.
The freshman experience will ensure that all ninth graders take classes within their small school and provide students with mentor programs. Heights High was split into five small schools in 2004 and 2005 in order to give students more personalized attention to increase achievement.
Statistics show that students aren’t taking classes within their small schools, however, and thus are not fully benefiting from what a smaller school can offer, said Jeffery Talbert, assistant superintendent, at a recent board meeting. Thirty percent of first-year students take their core classes — English, math, science and social studies — outside of the small school, and it increases with grade level, Talbert said.
The school could hire more staff so that students could take these core classes within their schools, but adding the 20 or so more teachers necessary would strain the budget, he said. Instead, the school is closing the P.R.I.D.E. (Producing Responsible Individuals Dedicated to Excellence) small school and reassigning some staff to work exclusively with freshmen. P.R.I.D.E. Principal Joseph Nohra will lead the freshman experience program.
The school is preparing for the possibly 15 percent budget cut that schools across Ohio are expecting. Scott Gainer, chief financial officer, said by e-mail that one way the district is preparing is by using the $717,000 received as part of the Education Jobs Fund Program (Ed Jobs) to create a retirement incentive.
Many are already eligible to retire but have chosen not to, and they will be offered the incentive, Heuer said. If at least 30 people choose to leave, and they are replaced with beginning teachers, the district could save $1.2 million, he said.
"Over time, this savings will be compounded every year, amounting to a multimillion-dollar savings to the district," Heuer said by e-mail.
Among the district's accomplishments, Heuer said that there are SMART Boards in every middle school classroom and, by the end of the year, there will be one in every elementary school classroom. He also spoke about the dedicated staff.
"We expect our students to be ready, willing and able to change the world. If ever there was a school district poised to show the state of Ohio and this country a true world-class educational experience, it is Cleveland Heights-University Heights. The talent is here."
Like the Barbershoppers, Heuer received a standing ovation.
More details about each of Heuer's concerns, solutions and the technology program will appear in a series of articles starting today.