By Veronica Thornton
Employers are providing more flexible work options to facilitate a balanced family-work life that fits their employee’s needs. Many within the educational system are becoming more aligned on the idea that there should be more options available for modern-day students that allow families to choose what educational routes are best for them. Knowing the options can help with these academic decisions, because what works for some does not work for others.
Local organizations like The Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring Cleveland families have high-quality and equitable school choices—have been hearing firsthand about the effects of the pandemic since students returned to in-person classes. The Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools outlines the four work roles of the Transformation Alliance:
Assess the quality of all district and charter schools in Cleveland.
The Alliance will work with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and partnering charter schools to adopt a quality framework to consistently evaluate the performance of all public schools in Cleveland. This framework will be evidence-based, comprehensive, and look objectively at academic, financial, and operational performance, as well as student, parent, and teacher satisfaction. All public district and charter schools in Cleveland will be annually assessed using this framework. Once collected and analyzed, the Alliance will work with the state to ensure that all schools are held accountable for performance, and recommend speedy closure as necessary.
Communicate to families about quality school options in Cleveland.
The Alliance will be responsible for communication with the public (in particular students and their families) about the quality of public schools in Cleveland. The Alliance will produce an annual report summarizing the results of the school quality reviews and will mount an aggressive marketing campaign during open enrollment to provide students and families with the information they need to make good educational choices.
Ensure fidelity to the citywide education plan – The Cleveland Plan.
The Alliance will ensure that all components of the plan are implemented based on an agreed-upon timeline and measures of success. In particular, the Alliance will work with the CMSD and partnering charter schools to develop a multi-year plan to ensure that Cleveland is developing a diverse set of educational options for students and families across the city. The Alliance will have a particular focus on bringing the best national education models to Cleveland and encouraging models unique to our city with local community partners. The Alliance will also develop venues for the community and institutions to have a voice in the development of new schools. The Alliance will monitor and ensure the faithful execution of the plan for the benefit of all of Cleveland’s children. Should conflicts arise among any of the Alliance partners, the Alliance will serve as the mediator and provide written recommendations to be considered by the parties in the resolution of these conflicts.
Monitor the quality of all district and charter schools in Cleveland.
Currently, Cleveland has no ability to influence the quality of charter schools that open within city limits or whether failing schools close. As a first step, the Alliance will promote standards developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers as it relates to the authorization of new charter schools and the timely closure of failing charters. In order to open a charter school in the City of Cleveland, the Alliance will request that the state require “sign off” by the Alliance in addition to sponsorship by an authorized entity as currently defined in state law. To ensure fairness and transparency, an appeals process to the Ohio Department of Education will be defined should the Alliance deny approval to a charter school that meets the defined standards.
Executive Director Meghann Marnecheck states, “Many families have concerns and anxiety regarding school safety and the mental health of their students. CTA has held ongoing Parent Cafés where they have provided a safe space for parents, children, and other stakeholders involved in the educational process to talk openly about their issues while helping them find solutions and resources that can assist them in navigating their educational journey. [Source: https://octf.ohio.gov/resources-for-professionals/articles/what-is-a-parent-cafe]
Since the pandemic, CTA has played a key role as a bridge between families and resources needed to make informed decisions regarding all available educational options for students. Family engagement manager Khadijah Fair says, “CTA has discovered there are families that are unaware that virtual options are still available to students while also learning how uninformed some families are about state requirements regarding homeschooling curriculum they have [chosen] as an alternative.”
One of the trending questions regarding the long-term impact of the pandemic on students is what are the long-term effects: emotionally, socially, and mentally? CMSD has held listening tours around the city to hear from families and their students about the state of their schools. We await the results of those discussions. It will be interesting to compare the findings of both CMSD and CTA.