CMSD NEWS BUREAU
Dozens of teenagers from across the city came together Friday and told CMSD what it would take to make their high schools better.
It was the first meeting of a student advisory committee that the District is required to assemble under The Cleveland Plan, a customized, state-approved blueprint for reform. The teenagers gathered in large and small groups through the morning and early afternoon, offering recommendations and comments that Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon vowed to give serious study.
"We are putting you in our shoes and saying, 'Help us do our job,' " he told students at CMSD's Barbara Byrd-Bennett Professional Development Center in Bratenahl.
The conversation centered partly on CMSD's "Humanware" surveys, which ask students whether their schools' safety, academic challenges and support systems are excellent, adequate or need improvement. Students were urged to explain negative responses. They also were asked how CMSD could improve attendance and security.
Gordon asked the students to talk about their schools' many positive features, providing a counter to misleading perceptions drawn from media attention. He also said he was willing to consider modifying the District dress code but told the students he wanted more than a blunt call to scrap it.
"Every time I am in a high school, someone asks 'Why do we need a dress code?' " said Gordon, who suggested allowing apparel that bears the names of colleges and universities. "I say, 'If you can give me some ideas, I'm willing to listen. You know how many ideas I've gotten? Zero."
The District's 21 high schools were asked to select 16 committee members -- four from each grade level representing a cross-section, not just honor students. The committee will convene again near spring break and at the end of the school year.
Rooms at the Barbara Byrd-Bennett building buzzed like high school cafeterias, but students were clearly engaged in the task.
Glenville Student Council President Cashalynn Bolden thanked Gordon for giving students a voice. She said later that Glenville needs extracurricular activities that go beyond a vaunted sports program and that recognition should be given to students who are making academic progress, even if they fall short of the honor roll.
"Most of them are trying" said Cashalynn, a junior. "We need more support. "We feel they are not hearing our voices."
Uris Solomon Jr., who plays basketball and runs cross-country for John Adams, said he would like the school to limit the use of substitute teachers, an issue the District dealt with at Adams early in the school year.
Denine Goolsby, executive director of the Humanware project, praised students on the advisory council for embracing their responsibilities.
"Students will honestly tell you what they're feeling," said Goolsby, a former principal in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools. "They will help you shape your school culture. As adults, we have to listen to them."