First-ever School Quality Fair is a one-stop shop for schools
by Justin Glanville photos by Julia Van Wagenen
The scene in Public Hall, Cleveland’s historic convention auditorium, doesn’t seem unusual at first glance: Men and women sitting at booths, vying for the attention of attendees. Pizza and drinks being served in one corner. A DJ spinning high-energy tunes in another.
Then the conversations come into focus.
“We’ll offer immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin to start,” a woman tells a young couple visiting her booth. “But we may add more later.”
“And this is the first year you’ll be open?”
“That’s right. Starting with kindergarten and first grade.”
What’s being offered here isn’t books or medical equipment.
This is Cleveland’s first-ever School Quality Fair, hosted by the Cleveland Transformation Alliance and PRE4CLE, both created to ensure all Cleveland children can get a quality education. Representatives from more than 50 schools, including preschools and K-8 schools, both district and charter, are here, sharing information to help parents decide where to send their kids in the fall.
“It’s almost information overload,” says Sarah Rutland of Tremont, as she wanders the aisles collecting brochures. She’s shopping for a school that offers a part-time pre-K schedule, as a way of transitioning her son to full-time kindergarten.
Getting families to make an active choice is fundamental to Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, a comprehensive plan to provide every child in Cleveland with a quality education.
For example, the school that teaches Mandarin and Spanish is the Global Ambassadors Language Academy, a charter school. It will open this fall in West Park, with an emphasis on bilingualism.
The couple who visited the booth – Brenna and John Cook – live in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood. They’re willing to send their daughter, who starts pre-K in the fall, to the school they feel provides the best education.
“Spanish is really important to learn in this country,” says John. “Kids who can speak it will have more opportunities in the future.”
The Cooks came without their daughter so they could concentrate on visiting school booths. But other parents have their students in tow.
Quiana Patterson, of the Buckeye neighborhood, attends a storytelling session with all four of her kids. It’s one of several workshops offered at the Fair; others include sessions on choosing a quality school and social emotional learning.
She picked up information from several schools, including the I CAN and Constellation networks of charter schools.
“I’m not sure I want to move them, though, because one’s on the honor roll and one’s on the merit roll where they are now,” she says. “I don’t want to risk their grades dropping.”
Daja Williams, also of Buckeye, pauses for a break on Public Hall’s grand marble staircase. He’s looking for a school that can meet the needs of his first-grade daughter, who has attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
“We want to make sure the teachers are trained in working with kids with disabilities,” he says, “without assuming the kids are acting out because they’re bad.”
One couple, Tamara Keitt and Matthew Davis, came downtown from the suburb of Lyndhurst. In a reversal of the common pattern of families moving out of the city for quality education, they believe schools in Cleveland are now offering some of the most creative approaches to preparing students for college and life.
“We just want our kids to go to the school that benefits them the most,” Davis says.
They’re especially interested in the Cleveland Music Settlement, a preschool that emphasizes music and arts education. Davis is musical himself: He was hired to be the Fair’s DJ, and works for a local radio station.
“The main thing is that they learn to be well-rounded as individuals,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking for: a place that where they’ll learn to be in charge of their own lives.”