CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Mayor Frank Jackson and other city leaders want Cleveland parents to know they have many choices in deciding where they send their children to school.
Jackson and the Transformation Alliance, a special advisory panel created last year, started a six-week campaign today to let parents know how schools in their neighborhoods are rated by the state and how they can pick the best-performing ones for their children.
Fliers detailing school choices for each of 10 neighborhoods in the city will be available at libraries, churches, community centers and through a limited mailing.
The fliers will list both district schools and high-performing charter schools -- schools that are privately run, but publicly funded.
Jackson said the goal is to "guide [parents] in a way that allows them to make a better choice."
Alan Rosskamm, a charter school executive working with the new panel, said that about 60 percent of parents in the city have not yet selected the school their child will attend in the fall.
"We have a real opportunity to get them the information they need to help them make an informed choice," he said.
The campaign is the latest step in a push Jackson started last year to triple the number of Cleveland students attending quality schools -- whether they are district-run or charter schools.
It started with his campaign last year to have the state legislature pass the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools and it continued in November with the passage of the first tax increase for district operations since 1996.
The latest campaign to promote quality choices was announced on the first anniversary of Gov. John Kasich signing the Cleveland Plan into law.
The alliance is telling parents to call the high-performing schools in their neighborhoods if they want to enroll their children or want more information.
They can also call the United Way's 2-1-1 line for help in choosing a school or visit a new website, RightSchoolCleveland.org.
That website includes links to maps of the city and the location of schools and their ratings.
Eric Gordon, the chief executive officer of the Cleveland school district, said the Transformation Alliance is still new so this year's school choice campaign is small. He expects they will expand in the future.
Families, Gordon said, need to be in the habit of actively making school decisions, not just settling for wherever students are assigned. He said families should seek high-performing schools, or decide to stay in lower-rated ones if it fits the student or family better for safety, social, transportation or other reasons.
"As long as a family is making an active decision, I'm OK with that," Gordon said.
Along with the Transformation Alliance campaign, the district is recruiting students to attend its high-rated schools. Advertisements for the district are playing on Clear Channel and Radio One stations and the district has hired a full-time recruiter to promote its highly rated schools.
Gordon said he hopes to have four recruiters, each handling a different part of the city.
The only Cleveland school district school that is full now is the Campus International School, which has an annual lottery for new students.
Vickie Eaton Johnson, mother of a recent Cleveland schools graduate now attending the University of California Los Angeles, spoke at the Alliance's campaign announcement to urge parents to make an effort to pick the right school and make the extra effort to get their children to that school, even if it's inconvenient.
"I don't think that we think enough about the choices we have for schools," she said, later adding, "We do have choices. Until we can have a quality school in every neighborhood in Cleveland, we may have to travel to the next neighborhood, or two neighborhoods over, but it's worth it."
Demitria McKenzie, who just graduated from the John Hay School of Science and Medicine, said she would rather have stayed at her neighborhood elementary school with her friends, but her parents sent her to the E Prep charter school so she would be more challenged. They also helped her pick John Hay when she was old enough for high school.
Now accepted at Howard University, she's glad her parents steered her to better schools.
"Choosing the right elementary school, middle school and high school for your scholar is choosing a better future," she said.
July 02, 2013 Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer