Residents have questions for CH-UH Board of Education candidates at Oct. 14 forum

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More than 170 people attended the Oct. 14 Candidate Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and FutureHeights, I moderated both the CH-UH Board of Education and the Cleveland Heights City Council sections. Here are the questions that were asked of the Board of Education candidates. Candidates responded at the forum, but if they would like to post additional comments, I invite them to do so here (Please refer to the question you are responding to by number).

The City of Cleveland Heights video-taped the event. If you missed it (or just would like to see it again), it will air on the city’s cable channel (Channel 20) at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily until the election. You can also view the video on the city’s YouTube channel.

If you were not able to attend the forum and have a question for any of the candidates, please post it here.

All School Board Candidates:
1. What can the Board do to not just encourage, but convince African American parents to become more engaged in their children’s education?

2. Will you encourage the school superintendent to hire a sustainability administrator?

3. How will you close the gaps between perception and reality of quality of our public schools?

4. How do you plan to attract new students and families?

5. Please name the last good book you have read?

6. Do you support retaining the union required policy of no study halls in the high school when union contract is renegotiated in 2016?

7. The past years have seen serious curtailment of school libraries, particularly at the elementary level. What is your position on restoring library services?

8. How do you see the relationship between public and private schools? What are the areas for support or competition with private schools?

9. What do you offer private school parents, and do you view those students as your responsibility as children in the district?

10. How do you propose to improve the diversity of students participating in our gifted programs?

11. How does the district deal with our money going for Ed-Choice vouchers?

12. What do you see as the primary advantage to be gained from the reconstruction of Heights High School?

13. To avoid raising taxes or raising them more than necessary, what budget items do you see as trim-able or cut-able?

Katura Simmons:
1. Please tell us what your educational background is. It is not in the Voter’s Guide.

2. Could you please explain why you did not attend the interview of School Board candidates by the Media Group/Plain Dealer.

Beverly Wright:
1. How familiar are you with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools?


  1. Deanna Bremer Fisher says

    CH-UH School Board candidate James Posch e-mailed me the following responses to the 13 questions above:

    1. Please review my answers to this question on the available event video.
    In brief: I feel we need to get our African-American parents more involved. We need to do this at a young level. We need to make sure at our parent events, these parents feel welcome and not feel like outsiders. We need to set and promote high expectations for ALL parents and make sure ALL students understand what’s expected from them.
    2. First before anyone is hired, I feel we need to explore and institute a sustainability policy. I feel from a good government (and best practice) perspective, our entire staff must recognize the value of sustainability when making decisions. This is bigger issue than the hiring of one staff administrator.
    There are many facets of sustainability, for example environmental sustainability and fiscal sustainability. The board’s role is one of governance and accountably not day-to-day operations and hiring. But our policies set expectations of day-to-day operations and staffing.
    I’m hopeful the other board members feel the same about this need. We need to work together, as all actions require a majority vote.
    3. I know firsthand that my children (and their friends) are getting an excellent education at Heights, even when compared to their peers in other types of schools. The reason you see so much community support for our schools is because they ARE excellent. But I need to say, they’re not perfect. We need to work harder in the areas of: Accountability, Fiscal Sustainability, Equity, and Communications (to name a few…).
    Many factors contribute to the image of our schools. I think one of the biggest is the misunderstood rankings issued by the Ohio Department of Education.
    The rankings are inaccurate and unfair. I feel outraged because the labels are misunderstood and hurt our community. I support the need for our district to be accountable, and as a matter of best practice, compared to similar schools. The State rankings don’t accurately do this.
    I would love to see us adopt a series of meaningful benchmarks that measure performance and excellence while addressing the challenges of our district. Shaker has created a format called ‘Measurements that Matter. I would like to see our district take on an initiative like this, possibly through the benchmarks set in the strategic plan.
    With this information available to the public, I’m hopeful they’ll see the district is doing better than the rankings imply.
    4. There are many answers to this question, such as, better communicating the gap between perception and reality as detailed in my previsions question’s answer.
    Also, we need to improve our relationships with our city officials (when I say city, I mean all of the cities we serve: Cleveland Heights, University Heights and portion of South Euclid). I feel it’s the board’s role to main these relationships. In this campaign I have over whelming endorsements from the CH officials (Mayor Dennis Wilcox, Vice-mayor Cheryl L. Stephens, Jeff Coryell, Jason Stein, and Melissa Yasinow). In UH my endorsements include: Pamela Cameron, Phil Ertel and Adele Zucker. I’m very proud of these, and hope to build upon these relationships.
    Stronger relationships with our cities will lead improving the promotion of our schools to realtors and to the young families looking for strong communities with strong schools.
    5. My favorite of all time book is: The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials [by: Philip Pullman]. The last ‘good’ book I read was the Blue Labyrinth [by: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child]. Anything by this duo is great. I’m eagerly awaiting their next book coming out on November 10th. (and then I should have time to read it because this election will be over by then).
    6. I’ll need to check if this is true. I heard the administration eliminated the study halls and replaced them with classes. The thought behind this was most of the kids were not getting anything done in the study halls – replacing them with classes gave the kids something constructive to do in its place.
    7. I love libraries. I served on the board of the Heights Libraries and was their President. School libraries are an easy target for budget cutting because they’re perceived as being less relevant and since districts like ours are being forced to make hard choices when making budget cuts, the libraries are unfortunately high on the cut list. The perception of the school libraries needs to change. A library is more than books. It’s a meeting, gathering and community space. We’ve already changed the name from Library to Media Center. We need to continue this evolution of public libraries but on the school level. This will make them more relevant and less prone to being the target of budget cuts.
    8. We have great private and parochial school choices in our community. But I’m afraid many parents feel they can’t send their children to our public schools, because they’re not a viable choice. I think these kinds of choices are being made with incorrect information (such as state rankings). Many in our community have other personal reasons for choosing other schools, and I respect those choices.
    I’m hopeful the parents of children not attending our schools likewise respect the families in our public schools.
    9. While it might seem like the district has great fiscal resources (because our taxes are high), the fact is we don’t have great fiscal resources, in part because our commercial tax base is modest compared to some nearby districts.
    Statewide we are stuck with an unconstitutional school funding system that neither political party has a political will to fix. We have TONs of unfunded mandates that are difficult for us to fiscally maintain, and we have the State sponsored school choice initiatives where the state is taking away funds from us at higher disproportional amounts that what we bring in. On top of this, we have rising costs we can’t control. So I don’t see how we can expand our spending to offer more to our private school parents.
    However, I would love to see us do more things with both private school and home schooled families that don’t impact our budget. These areas include athletics and extra-curriculars.
    10. For a while the district, as a cost savings measure, outsourced its management of the gifted program. I’m glad to see this has been brought back in-house. I feel we have many kids that could qualify for the gifted program, but what forever reason, their parents don’t know how to get them enrolled. Furthermore, the program has limited spots and is only offered in select buildings. So I feel we have an equity problem with how these services are delivered. I would like for us to re-evaluate the policies on how we deliver these services.

    11. This is State law. School districts like Cleveland Heights-University Heights are paying for private and parochial education for many students. What’s unfair about this legislation, what we’re forced to pay put per student is proportionally MORE than what the state gives us per student. Many of these students would not attend our schools anyways, mainly because of religious reasons. From a budgeting perspective, this is extremely hurtful (and frankly unfair). It forces us to spend less in the classroom for the kids in the district and drives up our back office costs for administering this program. Because we have limited choices in what we can cut from our budget, it forces the need for more and larger school levies.
    I think school districts like ours need to organize. The backers of those pushing to Ed-Choice are very well organized a very well-funded. We need to do the same.
    12. I’m unsure we’ll see large educational improvements solely because of a reconstructed High School, but opportunities for achievement will increase. There’ll be fewer distractions which could increase success, such as elimination of the hot classrooms (or classrooms without heat!). It’s very difficult to learn in that kind of setting. A reconstructed High School will be more efficient to operate from personnel and other budget perspectives. It’ll be a safer and more sustainable. It’ll also make the district more competitive among other schools. I’m hopeful it’ll be a source of community pride and increased achievement.
    13. Over 80% of the budget is personnel-related expenses. Any meaningful budget cuts would need to include personnel cuts. Because of the collective bargaining rules, as well as state and federal hiring regulations, the district has limited choices as to whom it can to cut and when the cuts can be made. I am concerned about the administrative staff load and need to learn more about this. I’m told the way we classify our administrators goes against how the State measures these costs. So I want to make sure we’re not overstaffed from an administrator perspective. Finally if we need to consider a reduction of workforce, I would like to see the various scenarios considered by staff in their analysis.

  2. Deanna Bremer Fisher says

    CH-UH School Board candidate Katura Simmons e-mailed me the following responses to the questions above, including her answers to the two questions that were directed toward her specifically.

    1: We have a lot of families that are not engaged and unfortunately a large percentage of those are African American. Everyone has to attempt to pull their weight with engaging. Each one should try to reach one; whether it is parent, student, staff or community member. But most important, the district must work on changing the perception of families in order to make them feel welcome. We must understand that in spite of any family financial resources or educational background all should be equally included and welcome to attend and be a vocal part of any resource / event proposed by the school district. In addition, Administration, teachers and all staff should engage in cultural competency professional development and training to ensure their understanding of our constantly changing demographics. This will foster better communication between all to obtain comfort and trust for all.

    2: At the forum my answer to this was yes. Since then I’ve had the time to give myself several questions behind this. Being eco-friendly and sustainable is a very important part of managing our environment, however I would have to know more about how this is financed and if the hiring of one person would make the difference or is it something that can be absorbed within the current staff.
    3 & 4: Perception vs. reality must begin with portraying the facts of the things our schools are doing right! It’s unfortunate what’s referenced and presented about CHUH is not the clearer definition our students and or resources. We have a musical department that is beyond compare. No nearby school, wither public or private, offer the array or caliber on musical instruction that CH-UH does. We have an incredible variety of extra curriculum clubs and groups to meet the needs and interest of just about any student. We have a competent, committed special education department working to educate students regardless of ability. We have dedicated and highly educated teachers. When our students compete against others across the region and the state in things like Power of the Pen, Model UN, Science Olympiads, Robotics we always come out on top. We will soon have state of the art facilities across the district. That is a lot to celebrate however our ratings don’t define our students. We need to change the negative publicity and instead focus on the positive to attract public interest for our school and community, for instance resurrecting guided tours for all students, given by staff along with student council and at least an introduction to the building principal and guidance counselor.
    5: Diane Ravitch; “Reign of Error”
    6: This seems like an issue that is beyond the scope of our Board of Ed. I think we would need to rely on the advice of our high school teachers and administrators about the relative value of study halls.
    7: The district hasn’t cut libraries, but it has replaced certified librarians/media specialists with library ancillaries. This at least allows all our elementary students to visit their media centers and check out books each week. I would like to rehire librarians but our current budget simply doesn’t allow it. And if we don’t pass our next levy, it would be impossible. There is a lot to be said about being able to walk into a library and do research as opposed to simply “googling” it. There just needs to be a balance between technology and standard research at which librarian’s can help guide students.
    8: I believe the relationship is not established. As far as competition, resources follow students to private schools that would otherwise attend public school. Based on poor reputation and test scores, some families have chosen to send their kids to private schools. We need to work on positive publicity to better reflect what our district has to offer.
    9: All students’ health and safety in our community should be the responsibility of our entire community, “it takes a village to raise a child”. I am a public school advocate, my siblings and I attended public school as do my children. Other families have the right, for whatever reason to place their children where they deem fit and I respect their decision. However, I would welcome any and all students to CHUH at any time because we have
    10: I find the current make-up of our gifted programming distressing. I hope that by offering high quality early childhood education to all our districts’ residents, we can help even the playing field between children with of different backgrounds. Again, I also think our district should engage in cultural competency training for its entire staff and that this would lead to more teachers recognizing the unique gifts and strengths of all their students. We should expect our teachers to hold all students to the absolute highest of expectations and if that was happening across the board, I think we would see gifted programming that more accurate reflects our current demographics. For instance, in 8th grade, my son was excited to come home to tell me that his class was all given the same work as the gifted students. If we offer this to all students it will give them a chance to rise to the top.

    11: I can hope that the district is pushing for the newly implemented strategic plan to succeed; which will help with student success; turn our test scores around and when able, take the district out of Ed Choice status.

    12: I expect the future CHHS to provide modern learning facilities with state of the art equipment and technology conducive to creative thinking, problem solving and enhanced interaction among students. I hope that it will be a more energy efficient facility, for the benefit of our community and environment but also as a potential learning opportunity for students. I also think there is value in the fact that students will attend a building each day that they can be proud of and that proclaims their community’s sense of what its students deserve.

    13: I am not familiar enough with the budget to answer that question, outside of what I stated at the forum.
    Question #1 specifically asked to me; I attended CHHS until 11th grade and then obtained my GED in 1995 (same year as my graduating class). It was not part of my goal but I became a mother earlier on in life. I have attended Cuyahoga Community College accumulating several credits, but not receiving a degree because of the need to work fulltime to support my family. I received additional experience through hands on and on the job training, but that hasn’t eliminated my ultimate goal to pursue my college degree. I have always promoted post high school education in my home; my two oldest children are currently enrolled in college.

    Question #2 specifically asked to me; although I was invited to the interview, unfortunately my candidacy was not validated by the Board of Elections until the morning of the Northeast Ohio Media Group Interview. This is my first time as a candidate for any political position. So I did not feel comfortable planning to attend without validation. I do wish that I would’ve been validated sooner and I would have been there as I have been at every other candidate forum.

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