High School Choice Fair draws hundreds of families

Read about the concept of “school choice” on paper and you would learn much about an important educational concept being worked out here in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and among other “portfolio” districts around the country.
But place it squarely into the circular concourse of the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center and you end up with a real-life, real-time demonstration of just how valuable and meaningful it can be to the students and families of the city and region.

Hundreds of families showed up at the CSU arena Wednesday night for the District’s annual High School Choice Fair.  Each of the District’s more than two dozen high schools had a table and made presentations to prospective students and their parents or caregivers during a two-hour open house in the concourse.
The Wednesday night program followed three days in which the District brought all of its eighth-grade classes to the Wolstein Center so that students would have a broader understanding of their choices.

Under The Cleveland Plan, CMSD operates as a portfolio district, providing different school models to fit varying needs. Students may enroll in the school of their choice if space is available and, in some cases, they meet admissions criteria. Schools have an incentive to maneuver for students: a new system of student-based budgeting gives schools more control over spending but ties their allocations to the size and makeup of their enrollment.

The growing portfolio will expand again next school year as the District offers five new or revamped designs in three new buildings: the John Marshall Campus, the Cleveland School of the Arts and Max S. Hayes. What was known as John Marshall High School will be transformed into three small schools that will specialize, respectively, in engineering, information technology and business and civic leadership.

Making important decisions
Lynn Murray and her daughter Abigail, an eighth-grader at a West Side charter school, spent a good 20 minutes enthusiastically chatting at the Cleveland School of the Arts table.

“I love having so many choices here,” Murray said. “We’ve been looking at private and Cleveland schools, and we can afford to send her anywhere, but CSA looks like it has everything that we want.”

Murray said CMSD officials also helped her figure out a way to have Abigail, who is a visual artist, perform her tryout this weekend because the regular CSA tryouts are not being being held until Feb. 28, the day after a deadline to apply for a private school next year.

“That meant a lot because they were willing to work with us,” she said.

Abigail was beaming and practically bouncing as her mother talked.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I love art, and I would really like to be at a school where there are other artists of all kinds.”

Over at the Washington Park Environmental Science Academy table, Haleigh Tomes, an eighth-grader at CMSD’s William Cullen Bryant School, nudged her mom. “Can I go ahead and sign it?” she asked, waving a sheet in front of her that wouldn’t commit her to the school but would show her interest.

“Of course, check it out,” mom Jenny Ulch said, adding that she is hoping her daughter instead will choose one of the new small schools at  John Marshall, the West Side campus that is near where they live and where she attended, or James Ford Rhodes High because of its ROTC program.

“I was a Lawyer of John Marshall and even though I didn’t graduate, I hope she goes there, especially because it’s a brand-new school with so much to offer,” Ulch said. “But she is showing interest in other schools that would require figuring out the transportation issue.”

Innovative schools, creative recruiting
About 10 people were clustered around the Facing History New Tech table, where current students sported green T-shirts with the school name and worked the front of the table, talking up prospective classmates.“We thought it was a good idea to have students here to tell the families what it’s really like at our school,” saidFHNT Principal MarcEngoglia. He said allCMSD schools have had to focus more intently on recruiting students.Facing History New Tech  combines the rigor of a project-based New Tech school with the introspection of the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum. The high school, for ninth- through 11th-graders until it adds a senior class next school year, is located on the third floor of the building that houses Charles Mooney K-8 School, 3213 Montclair Ave., in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood.
Alex Rodriguez and Javier Flores, two Clark K-8 School students who had visited the FHNT table earlier in the week, when students from each CMSD school were bused to the Wolstein Center, hung around the table for a good part of the evening Wednesday.“I know that I’m going here,” said Alex, who said he has arranged to visit the school again later this semester. “The school really hit me. I like the idea of studying a project and working with other students.”Javier hasn’t quite settled on a destination. “I’m also looking at Max Hayes,” he said. “But I do like that kids work on a project together at Facing History.”
During the week, the Max Hayes table was one almost every student had to see:  an industrial arts instructor at the career-technical school called out to the lines of students as they entered the arena, challenging them to pound a nail into a piece of wood (see video, right).
Max Hayes is moving from Detroit Avenue to a new state-of-the-art building near West 65th Street and Clark Avenue. The school is also developing stronger career “pathways.”
Principal Phillip Schwenk said he was “hearing a lot about the building and the pathways” from visitors to the table Wednesday.
Latonia Davis, who heads the Martin Luther King Jr. Campus, dove into recruiting last year, the District’s first under student-based budgeting, and didn’t wait for the fair to begin a new campaign.
The East Side campus, which includes academies focused on health careers and law and municipal careers, has already hosted eighth-graders from nine of CMSD’s K-8 schools, with students from nine more scheduled to come on buses next week. She believes the aggressive strategy is the reason that the academies combined to draw about 200 ninth-graders this school year, up from about 130.
“We’re seeing an increase through marketing,” she said.
Charter students, CMSD students weigh options
Cecelia Tarraut and her daughter Shiyana McKee, who now attends charter Lake Erie Preparatory School, had visited half a dozen school tables.

“She has no idea what she wants to do or where she wants to go, so this is a great idea – having all the schools in one place where you can talk to everyone,” Tarraut said, picking up information from the John Marshall table.

Shontianna Jackson, an eighth-grader at CMSD’s Douglas MacArthur Girls’ Leadership Academy, said she already knows her vocation.

“I want to be a real estate agent,” she said as she walked the Wolstein Center concourse with her older sister Shondore Dickson, a 2014 graduate of Design Lab Early College High School.

Shontianna, who attended the choice fair on Tuesday with her school, said she spent a lot of time at the Jane Addams Business Careers Center table and really liked what she saw.

“I’m also looking for a school where I can play sports, especially basketball and volleyball,” she said.

Later, the two stopped by the Problem-based Academy of Critical Thinking (PACT) and Shontianna picked up some pamphlets. They joined a stream that included parents and students from an East Side charter school who came together by bus.
PACT and JFK E³agle Academy are new year-round schools where students blend online and classroom instruction and stick with courses until they master the content. The schools, which were developed with a $3 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, now share the former Cranwood School but will eventually occupy the John F. Kennedy campus after solidifying new cultures.
The schools, which opened in late July, scraped and scrambled to fill their initial complements of 125 ninth-grade seats, but PACT Principal Richard Reynolds thinks PACT will get its next 125 much more easily. More than 300 eighth-graders signed sheets this week and will receive follow-up calls.
“If we get 50 percent of them, we’re still going to be over,” he said.
A districtwide enrollment push will continue until March 13. A lottery will be held if the number of students who apply to a particular school exceeds capacity, with results announced March 24.
Parents and caregivers whose children are new to the District may sign them up at any CMSD school, even if it is not the one a child will attend. Those whose children already attend a District school may register them online at www.choosecmsd.org
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