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La Liga de Las Americas

Cleveland’s Latino community outlines needs to help CMSD become a premier school district

By Arooj Ashraf, Special to La Prensa


Cleveland: Imagine the ideal school. Your child loves it so much he can’t wait for his first morning class. The school fosters a multilingual atmosphere and the teachers even explain things to him in Spanish if he doesn’t understand.


There are no fights, guns, drugs, or racism and you never have to worry about your child’s safety. After-school programs offer multiple enrichment options that cater to your child’s interests and the dropout rate is zero.


Isabel Ortiz, an elementary school teacher at Scranton, hangs notes taken during the Academic Focus group’s discussion.


This was the vision of a premier school Cleveland’s Latino community provided the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) on Nov. 30, 2006. The district is aiming to become a premier school district in the United States and wants to help prepare U.S.-American students to compete in a global market and secure good jobs.


CMSD met with Cleveland’s Latino community to share their goals, listen to concerns, and collect feedback to improve their strategic plan that will be implemented over five years.


“The C.E.O. has laid out an outline for the roadmap; we have to put in the details,” said Mickey Brown, co-chair of CMSD’s Strategic Planning Effort.


“Children are our number one customer,” continued Dr. Eugene Sanders, C.E.O. of CMSD who assumed his position five months ago, after he departed from the Toledo Public Schools system.


Sanders said success is not determined by socio-economic, cultural factors and location of school, but the quality of education provided. He said a premier school needs to be more aggressive and ensure the students’ success in a global competition.


The CMSD has held multiple community sessions throughout the district and this one was held to invite input from the Latino community. The goal of these forums is to receive feedback and engage parents in establishing the standards for “the strategic plan.”


Sanders said his administration values open and honest communication, wants to address their concerns before things go wrong. “Our emphasis is on the best interest of students.”


Safety in the schools is the Latino community’s number one concern, says Flor Gómez, CMSD board member. Blanca Alvar attended the event with her three children, Jasmine, 5, Sarah 13, and Johnny, 16. She said her daughter Sarah was harassed and “beat up” in school and there was nothing done to prevent this. “I came here to make myself heard,” she said. Alvar said these incidents are unacceptable and she would like something done to prevent such future outbursts.


Dr. Sanders said all problems need to be addressed head on and resolved in meaningful ways and that is why his administration has taken a “zero tolerance” approach to bullying. “One of our immediate concerns is to make sure students are safe walking to and from school.”


CMSD has recognized six strategic criteria essential in building a premier school, including: academics, student needs, security, building & facilities, and customer services.


Audience members joined the focus group of their choice and passionately discussed what qualities a premier school should possess. After 30 minutes of lively discussion, each group shared strategies or goals which they felt were the most imperative.


There was significant overlap in the needs and demands. Improved security, multi-lingual staff and education programs, need for full time bilingual support staff like psychologists, counselors and teachers’ aids, topped the charts. Dr. Sanders ensured the audience everything they talked about has been heard and will be incorporated in the plan.


He cautioned that change will not happen over night and requires continuous vigilance. “A lot of what you are asking requires money and time, but this administration is committed to these changes,” he said.


Gómez said if the district offers a good product, the community will be more willing to support school levies and pay higher taxes. She said the Latino community needs to be active in these discussions.


Attorney José C. Feliciano is chairman of the Hispanic Round Table; he said the event was energizing and inspiring. Feliciano added that the community was able to voice critical issues and let the school system know that they must reach out and involve the Latino community at all levels, from top leadership positions to teachers and support staff.


“We have access here [within CMSD] that we have not seen before. Now we need to translate this into action,” Feliciano said. He noted that Dr. Sanders has committed himself to improving the school system, “And we will hold him to it.”


The Round Table focuses on education, economics, and development. It helps form parents groups and provides them with the skills to effectively advocate for the community’s concerns. Feliciano said one important issued that was not addressed is the drop-out rate. “There is a need to develop a task force or program and commit key resources to address this problem.”  


“This will not be the first or last time you hear from us,” concluded Dr. Sanders.


If you were unable to attend the event and would like to give your opinions and feedback on how the district can achieve a premier school visit: www.cmsdnet.net and click on ‘Strategic Planning’ to fill out the survey. The deadline to complete the survey is Dec. 6, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.


The event was hosted by the Hispanic Round Table at West Side Ecumenical Ministry (WSEM)/ El Barrio.






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