Private or public?
Joan Spoerl couldn’t decide.
After living in Chicago for about 20 years, she and her husband moved to Cleveland Heights about six years ago when he landed a job at the Cleveland Clinic. She felt comfortable here — the city was more like the one she called home for two decades than anywhere else in Cleveland.
She worked in both the private and public schools in Chicago, but she wasn’t as familiar with the options in Cleveland Heights. Her son was getting older, and soon she’d have to decide where to send him to kindergarten.
But after reading the book How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood Renaissance, she was certain that she wanted to go public.
And she was going to gather a group of people dedicated to improving public schools and mobilizing community support, just like they did in a Chicago neighborhood in How to Walk to School.
“It’s not a nonprofit,” said Spoerl, 47. “It’s a grassroots movement.”
She calls the organization “Go Public! Great Schools are Everybody’s Business,” because, as the name suggests, even parents who send their children to private and parochial schools benefit from making their neighborhood schools better.
She met with Patrick Mullen, executive director of Reaching Heights, another community organization that supports public schools, and now has space on the nonprofit's page. She also spoke to Doug Heuer, superintendent of the , Joy Henderson, parent/community liaison for the CHUH Schools and other community and school leaders, telling them about idea and brainstorming goals for the organization based on parent requests and concerns.
“The key is the principal partnership with the parents,” said Spoerl, who works part time at the and does consulting work. “(Heuer) was going for it completely from the beginning, and I felt like the district would be on the right path in his hands because he had the same vision that I had.”
After meeting with groups of parents and school officials, she created a list of what the community would like to see in the public schools, which included better communication between parents and administrators, coverage of school awards and events, a positive school environment, rigorous curricula, community participation in mentoring and tutoring programs, improved buildings and sustainable school grounds with food gardens.
The group’s first major project launched April 15 — a month-long book and magazine drive for students in kindergarten through fifth grade who may not have access to books over the summer.
When students don’t read over the summer, they can fall behind by sometimes grade levels, and it’s one of the major factors people mention when citing causes of the achievement gap.
So Spoerl asked Title I teachers, the literacy and reading specialists from the CHUH School District, to distribute the donated materials to kids before June based on their reading levels and interest to make sure they had books in their hands.
Go Public! dropped boxes all over town — , , , all CHUH schools and — convenient locations for most in the Heights. The drive will run until May 15.
“Cleveland Heights is resource-rich when it comes to people, talent, creative problem-solvers and even money,” Spoerl said. “There’s a role for everyone to play, even people who send their kids to private schools.”