March into Kindergarten, Cleveland

Now is the time of year when Northeast Ohio families look hopefully toward spring when the young people in their lives can get back outside for sunshine and outdoor, active play.

It’s also the time of year when parents and families of children who plan to attend Kindergarten during the 2022-23 school year can begin to explore their school choice options.

Children who are 5 years old on or before September 30th are eligible to attend kindergarten and registration begins March 14. If you’d like to learn more about local schools and compare options for the right fit school that meets your family needs, click here to access our School Finder Tool.

You can also click here to request a 1-1 conversation with one of our School Quality Navigators. Many of our Navigators are parents who have been through the school choice process in Cleveland, and they can walk you through the steps and answer any questions along the way.

What can you do now to help get your child ready for kindergarten? Below are some of our favorite free resources to help ensure your child starts his/her first day of school ready to experience the joy of learning that kindergarten is meant to inspire in our youngest students.

Grow Your Home Library

The Literacy Cooperative is one of our community partners committed to helping ensure that every family has access to books and resources that open up a world of opportunities. One of the ways they do this is through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a free and unique program that mails a brand new, age-appropriate book to enrolled children every month from birth until five years of age, creating a home library of up to 60 books and instilling a love of books and family reading from an early age.

Click here to register your child for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and he/she will receive their first book 2 months after registration. 

The Cleveland Kids Book Bank is also a wonderful resource for families hoping to give kids more access to books at home. In addition to events throughout the year, they also help place books for all ages at Little Free Libraries throughout Cleveland. Click here to find a Little Free Library near you! 

Museum Exploration is also Education! 

Studies show that exploring museums helps inspire a young child’s sense of wonder and curiosity that will prepare him/her for future learning. Children who visit museums also show improved reading and writing skills.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is always free to the public and they have areas of the museum dedicated to interactive art and expression for children. Thanks to a generous gift from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation Cleveland families can visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for free on Sundays with proof of residence. Click here for details and ticket reservation link. Families that do not live in Cleveland or East Cleveland that are eligible for Snap/EBT assistance can also visit for just $1.

Visit the Library: Online, By Phone or In-Person

The Cleveland Public Library system has a variety of programs to help young children engage with stories and inspire their imagination. These include virtual stories with local celebrities, in-person story times, as well as a “Dial a Story” program that allows children to explore books using their imagination by calling to hear a recording of classic children’s stories, jokes and poetry. To listen to a story, dial 216-777-6500. Summer reading challenges are also a great way to get students inspired to engage with books as they get ready to start a new school year.

To find a story time at your local library or view online virtual stories, parents and families can visit the library website. 

Make Reading at Home Fun! 

Twenty minutes a day is all it takes to develop a child’s key reading skills! The Cleveland Schools Book Fund website provides tips and tips for reading at home and ideas to help make the most of your child’s home library. They also have ideas for how to find reading inspiration out in nature (no books needed) and how to make sure reading time is relaxing and fun for both you and your child. Click here to visit their website.

Hey Cleveland, Show Your High School Some Love!

Maybe it’s the security guard who smiles as you walk in the door or the kind words of a teacher helping with a tough assignment. Perhaps it’s a coach’s high-five in the hallway, the energy of live music during a concert, or the cheers of a crowd during sporting events — if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that these kind of in-person school experiences are as important to student development as the lessons taught in the classroom.

With this in mind, Cleveland Transformation Alliance is sponsoring the “I Love My School” video contest so high school students can celebrate the people and experiences that make Cleveland high schools some of the best around. “This is an invitation to our high school students to focus on the fun experiences of being a high school student — memories being made, the caring teachers and staff, the stories you’ll hold onto after graduation,” said executive director Meghann Marnecheck about the contest.

Special thanks to Lamar signs and our media partners at Z107.9 HipHop Cleveland. Contest prizes and support include a $500 scholarship sponsored by Calhoun funeral home as well as gift certificates and donations from the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. One winner from each participating high school will be selected and the top videos will be featured on the Cleveland Transformation Alliance website and social media. Students just need to record a video and add their own creative spin to the “I love my School” logo and sticker icons that are available for download. Students can upload their video to any online video or social media website and provide the link through our online submission form.

“Our high schools are home to some of the most innovative and unique programs in the country, and this contest was designed to remind everyone about the amazing assets we have in our public schools,” said Marnecheck. Schools already planning to participate include John Marshall, Invictus High School, Cleveland School of Science & Medicine, Rhodes College & Career Academy, Lincoln West School of Science & Health, Rhodes School of Environmental Science, Max Hayes, Northeast Ohio Preparatory School, Lake Erie International High School and the Ohio Connections Academy. Students and families who are considering high school options can visit our school finder tool to find information and facts about all of the high-quality public school options in Cleveland.

Khadijah Fair: A Champion of Cleveland Public Schools

As a Cleveland Metropolitan Schools (CMSD) graduate, the mother of a current CMSD student and a longtime Student and Family Recruiter for the CMSD portfolio of schools, some might consider Khadijah Fair an expert in Cleveland public schools.

In fact, you might even call her a “cheerleader” for Cleveland’s public schools. Fair spent four years on the Glenville high school cheer squad, and began her college career at Bowling Green State University. She graduated from Notre Dame College, where she studied communications and continued her passion for cheerleading, going on to become a professional cheer coach for several Northeast Ohio schools.

What better person, then, to enthusiastically advance Cleveland Transformation Alliance’s mission and vision to ensure a high-quality, equitable education for all students and families in Cleveland?

As a Family Engagement Manager with Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA) Fair will be well positioned to expand on the relationships and community engagement that were central to her previous role with CMSD. As a recruitment specialist, she often connected with families transitioning from Pre-K to kindergarten and 8th graders who were going into high school throughout the enrollment process during key turning points in the student’s educational journey.

Fair’s services were especially critical during COVID-19, when many families moved into the city of Cleveland or changed schools. When asked about finding the “right fit” school for each child, Fair is excited to share all of the options, and she always starts with the question “What is your child interested in?” Once a child’s interests are determined, Fair notes that transportation is often the next issue, noting that she can usually identify a program nearby to meet a student’s academic and extra-curricular needs.

Building relationships with Cleveland families is the part of her work that comes most naturally to Ms. Fair, who loves to connect one-to-one and help resolve family concerns. She recognizes the potential, however, in her new role, for a larger impact on the community she loves. “I want to have more of an impact in education, in economic development, networking, meeting new people, talking about my experiences living in Cleveland and working in Cleveland.”

Meghann Marnecheck, CTA executive director, explains that the board and staff are “excited to have Khadijah with us for her passion, talent and the wealth of information she brings with her from her prior experience at the school district.”

Together, the women also recognized that Fair will be joining a “team of moms” alongside Marnecheck and the group of School Quality Navigators she will oversee, expecting that when they all work together “we will be a powerful force on behalf of our public school system and Cleveland families.”

Hiring: Neighborhood-Based School Quality Navigator

Cleveland Transformation Alliance seeks an energetic and reliable Neighborhood-Based School Quality Navigator to join our team. 

Part-time: Up to 20 hours per week

Salary: $15 to $20 per hour, commensurate with experience

Grant funded through 10/31/2022 with the possibility of extention

Flexible Remote and In-Office Work

Reports to: Family Engagement Manager

See the full job description and details to apply here: CTA Neighborhood Navigator

Cleveland Transformation Alliance Logo

State of Schools & School Report Cards

Illustration courtesy of Jo Byrne

Last month, Eric Gordon, CEO of Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) inspired a sold out, fully-masked crowd of students, City Club guests, community members and educators with a bold and CMSD State of the Schools address.

We highly recommend watching or listening to Gordon’s vision for a more fair, just and good educational system for every child, the full video is available online here, but we’ve also outlined some key takeaways below.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns, CMSD celebrated record growth and improvement:

    1. Ranked in the top 15% in Ohio for improvement in kindergarten – 3rd grade literacy
    2. Reached top 4% in Ohio for improved reading and math test scores
    3. Recognized as top 1% in Ohio for improvements in graduation rates, with an 80.1% graduation rate, making CMSD the fourth fastest improvement district in Ohio, with most notable gains for African American and Hispanic students

      With the onset of COVID-19, however, Gordon went on to describe how those academic gains were challenged by the layered traumas of job-loss, food insecurity, and the digital divide which CMSD worked hard to overcome, but which continues to separate many Cleveland students/families from vital resources and supports.

      “As the leader of one of the most important institutions serving the people in the ninth most racially segregated city in America, I knew we needed to not only address the enormous impacts of the public health pandemic on the students we serve, but also the massive added threat of continued economic and social injustice that was playing out in disadvantaged urban communities across our country, including right here in Cleveland,” said Gordon.

      “Let’s face it,” he went on to say, “even in the best cases, the school systems that many are striving to return to in America were built for an agrarian society in an industrial age, not for a global society in the digital age.”

      Why then, Gordon asked, should we try to rebuild or return to a system that isn’t built for our students’ modern-day needs? Instead, he challenged us to consider the question “How do we emerge from this pandemic and position the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for the future?”

      Gordon called on federal, state and local leaders to eliminate the digital divide, insisting that affordable internet access should be considered an essential public utility as important as heat and water. He also called on school leaders and educators to use the lessons of the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink “old tools” such as classroom seat time, learning in brick-and-mortar buildings, course grades and grade-levels.

      A more “just and good” educational system of the future, beginning today, should be designed for competency-based learning, anywhere/anytime, and individualized learning with a focus on the whole child, including their social, emotional, cultural and physical wellness. This new vision for CMSD learning includes both students and adults “in a curious organization of dedicated people who are always learning and improving together.”

      Illustrating his point by describing the once unimaginable science fiction of Star Trek’s touch screens and intergalactic phone calls, Gordon encouraged the audience to let go of our old ideas about what’s possible for our schools and community, reminding us that we have to be willing to try and fail (and try again) in order to reach our most ambitious goals.

      Using American Rescue Plan Funds, Gordon intends to invest deeply in a whole-child, innovative math, arts, music and technology focused approach to anytime/anywhere learning, with full-time health care professionals, laptops for every student and modern media centers with increased access before and after school. In closing, he said, “if we’ve done nothing else, in my last ten years as your CEO it is to prove what’s possible if we envision the future and build it together,” inviting us to believe in a bright new future for our students, our schools, and our city.

      Three weeks after Gordon’s state of schools address, the release of the 2020-2021 state report cards reinforced the urgency of the work ahead of us. As expected, CMSD report cards confirmed the setbacks from last year’s COVID-19 shutdowns and more than a year of remote/hybrid learning. In a statement sent to parents by phone and email just hours after the report cards were released, Gordon said “The Cleveland Metropolitan School District made great progress in the last 10 years, but that momentum could not stand up under relentless battering from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

      Gordon went on to say that Cleveland schools have “clearly proven what they can accomplish under better conditions,” making reference to several years of growth and progress fueled by The Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, which was recently to reflect updated goals and a strengthened commitment to equity in education.

      Prior to the pandemic, Cleveland was being recognized nationally for “beating the odds,” for it’s  progress and growth, including a report released by the Council for Great City Schools posing the question, “How well do public schools in large cities overcome the effects of poverty  and other barriers?” and an Education Week report, “The Fastest Improving City School Districts Aren’t the Ones You Might Expect.

      Students have lost learning time, and it will take an ongoing commitment from the community for students to get back up to speed and likely several academic years for this catch-up to occur, said CTA Executive Director, Meghann Marnecheck.  Parents will be able to access updated data at after the holiday season to learn more about their school’s progress and to help navigate the upcoming 2022-2023 school enrollment season.

      Mary Halm, Public Service Fellow, Says Health and Education Go Hand in Hand

      Growing up in Cleveland, OH, Mary Halm benefited from parent-led school choice during her early years at Old Brooklyn Community School. But when it came to highschool she was encouraged to explore options based on her interests and learning style. She knew, even then, that all of her friends didn’t have the same options. One close friend’s school choices were based strictly on geography, needing to choose between schools within walking distance.

      Perhaps that was the beginning of Halm’s curiosity about the crossroads between privilege and opportunity when it came to educational access. Now a graduate of the University of Rochester with a BA in Health, Behavior, and Society, Halm is a Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellow at Cleveland Transformation Alliance. During her one-year fellowship, Halm will focus her efforts on working with past and future family survey results to ensure that Cleveland Transformation Alliance services and programs align with the needs and concerns most important to Cleveland families.

      As a public health advocate, one of the most important concerns for Halm is the correlation between education and health outcomes. “The quality of our education impacts us so much further and deeper than we would expect it to,” says Halm. From financial literacy, employment options, reading level, nutrition, social emotional health, social skills, and even physical fitness — so many of the markers that put students on the path to a healthy life begin with quality education.

      According to Halm “to a certain extent, there is a correlation between health and education. The better education and the higher level of education we receive, generally the better our health is or more importantly, our access to healthcare improves, which directly impacts our health. So how do we make sure that children have access and educational choices? When we can provide our community with quality education, it’s a domino effect for better opportunity for lifelong health.”

      In her role at the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, Halm believes her listening skills will be put to good work — and executive Meghann Marnecheck is eager to incorporate Halm’s public health experience into the organization’s approach to quality education for every child.

      “I’m thrilled to have Mary’s perspective and her background will bring a lot to our work. I’m excited to have someone who’s really going to think about education as a social determinant of health and look at our work through that filter,” says Marnecheck.

      To learn more about our 2020 parent survey results, which will be an initial area of focus for Halm’s work, you can click here: Family Listening Campaign Findings.

      Back to School Updates: When Students Feel Comfortable, They Thrive

      Students in CMSD’s year round schools and charter high schools were the first Cleveland schools to return to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, beginning in the first week of August.

      Cleveland’s earliest starting schools include the following:

      Cleveland High School for Digital Arts, Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School, John Adams College and Career Academy, Lincoln-West School of Global Studies, Lincoln-West School of Science and Health, MC2²STEM, Cleveland College Preparatory School, University of Cleveland Preparatory School, Northeast Ohio College Preparatory School, Frederick Douglass High School, Invictus High School, Old Brook High School, and Regent High School

      For more return to school updates, including registration information for Cleveland public and charter schools, visit our Back to School Page. Our School Quality Navigators will continue to update this information as frequently as possible, as they connect with schools and families throughout the year.

      Cleveland Metropolitan School District recently announced a change in its dress code, eliminating required uniforms at most schools. CEO Eric Gordon said the new dress code was the outcome of a task force developed in response to concerns of parents and students over the past 18+ mos. Most importantly, beyond a student dress code to empower active and engaged learning, Gordon also indicated that the new CMSD dress code is designed to “support all students in developing a body positive self image” and is intended to be gender neutral.

      Throughout the month of August and September, Cleveland students will continue returning to the classroom — with safety measures in place for COVID-19 precautions, including mask requirements in most schools. Based on our 2020 “Family Listening Campaign,” safety is a top priority for Cleveland families when making decisions about the right school for their child(ren) and many families  have concerns about COVID-19, especially for children who are too young to be vaccinated. You can find links to the safety precautions being taken by each school/network of schools by visiting our Back to School Page.

      This summer, we heard from many parents and community members through our Common Ground Family Café event and ongoing Family Safety Survey which remains active through Friday, August 13. Parents and caregivers do have ongoing school safety concerns — a return to safe, in-person learning is a high priority for most students and families. It’s important to note, however, that safety concerns vary from person to person and family to family — from health-related concerns to community safety, cyberbullying and mental health issues. Cleveland schools and families are talking about what it means to ensure that every child has a safe and inclusive learning environment.

      Images from Common Ground CLE Family Café

      CG 1
      CG 3


      We’re taking this information to heart, as the Cleveland Transformation Alliance Board has done a months-long ‘refresh and review’ of the original Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools as we reach our 10-year anniversary. As part of this process, we anticipate sharing an updated plan with the community in early fall.

      “You thrive where you’re comfortable,” said one Ohio University intern at our Common Ground Family Café event this summer, probably not realizing how much his words would come to guide our leadership and board members, as we look ahead to the next phase of our work in building and supporting a diverse network of safe, inclusive schools for every Cleveland child.

      How can we ensure that every Cleveland child feels comfortable enough to thrive in his/her/their school? We’d love to hear from you on this topic and others. Let us know your thoughts by filling out this brief family safety survey (before midnight Aug. 13) or chat with other Cleveland families on our Cleveland Family Café bulletin board —  Just click here and register to join the conversation. 

      4 Things You Should Know About Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan

      With the July 1st approval of the State of Ohio’s biennial budget, we are celebrating a win for Cleveland students, families and schools through its inclusion of the Fair School Funding Plan — a long overdue legislative action confronting some of the most challenging issues faced by Ohio school districts, with disproportionate impact on urban districts like Cleveland.

      Though the plan isn’t a permanent or perfect solution, it marks an important first step in putting students first when it comes to school funding in Ohio. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, Steve Dyer, government relations director at the Ohio Education Association and a former Democratic state lawmaker from Akron, says “it’s a totally different way of looking at school funding.” Noting that “it’s much more of a ‘What do kids need, and let’s pay for it’ rather than, ‘Here’s how much money we’re willing to spend, let’s divide it by the number of kids and see what we come up with.”

      Below are the top 4 things we think you should know about Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan as it related to Cleveland students and families:

      1. Cost per student — In the past, Ohio’s actual cost of educating a student was not used to determine the amount a school or district received from the State ($6,020 in the current budget) per pupil. For education advocates, this “per pupil” funding amount seemed to be an arbitrary figure, but the Fair School Funding plan will take into consideration the cost of teacher salaries and benefits, transportation, technology needs, and the number of administrators in a district, ensuring that most districts will receive between $7,000 to $8,000 per student, a substantial increase.
      2. Cost sharing improvements — One of the issues that Eric Gordon, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO, outlined in his support of the Fair School Funding Plan was the burden of cost on urban districts when families opt out of their local schools. Gordon emphasizes the importance of school choice, including partnerships with a portfolio of high-performing CMSD-sponsored charter schools. We are grateful, however, that the new funding model now requires the state to make payments directly to charter schools and voucher payments for private schools directly, instead of placing that cost/payment burden on school districts.
      3. Charter Schools and Religion, Provisions Removed — The final budget language removed an addition in the Ohio Senate passed version that could have allowed for religiously based charter schools.  The final language restored the provision that schools will be “nonsectarian in their programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution.”
      4. It’s only for two years — One of the biggest criticisms of The Fair School Funding Plan is that the Ohio legislature only committed to funding the plan for two years. Originally, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a 6-year phased plan, which did not make it through to the final version of the budget. Education advocates and district leaders have quickly followed their celebration and relief with concern that everything could change again in two years, making it difficult to make long term plans.

      Depending on who you ask, the legislative road map for how schools will continue to be funded beyond the two year mark is either the best part of the plan or a cause for concern. According to Ryan Pendleton, treasurer of Akron Schools, “the road map is the more important aspect,” he said, “Meaning, once fully phased in, we should have about $30 million of additional monies. Much of that is economically-disadvantaged monies that we need to put to work towards those students who need it most. That’s exciting. That road map is exciting because now we know the legislature, the General Assembly, knows exactly what needs to be costed out to get to that level of adequate funding.”

      Cleveland Transformation Alliance Joins Community Shares

      CLEVELAND – Greater Cleveland Community Shares has added a new member nonprofit: The Cleveland Transformation Alliance.

      Each year, Community Shares launches workplace giving campaigns in a diverse group of 90 Greater Cleveland workplaces, including the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Municipal School District, Tucker Ellis LLP, and many other private businesses throughout Northeast Ohio. With the addition of the new member, Community Shares represents 36 innovative nonprofit organizations working on the front lines of social justice.

      The Cleveland Transformation Alliance is a public-private partnership dedicated to growing a portfolio of quality district and charter schools. The Alliance works to ensure every child in Cleveland attends a quality school, and every neighborhood has great schools from which families can choose.

      “The Cleveland Transformation Alliance is honored and excited to be selected to join Greater Cleveland Community Shares as a member organization. Our work to ensure that every Cleveland family is aware of all their K-12 public education options, both district and charter schools, is a commitment to educational equity and social justice.  We look forward to sharing our story with area organizations, businesses, and other member organizations through Community Shares’ strong network,” said Executive Director Meghann Marnecheck.

      Community Shares’ mission is to support social justice organizations through workplace giving programs and other philanthropic initiatives. Since its inception in 1984, Community Shares has invested nearly $15 million to advance long-term solutions for our community.  For more information on Community Shares and its 36 members, visit or call 216-361-9920.

      Community Shares Member Nonprofits

      Adoption Network Cleveland · Bellaire-Puritas Development Corporation · Bike Cleveland · Burten, Bell, Carr, Development Inc. · Business Volunteers Unlimited · CityMusic Cleveland · Cleveland Animal Protective League · Cleveland Jobs With Justice · Cleveland MOTTEP · Cleveland Public Theatre · Cleveland Transformation Alliance · Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research · FutureHeights · Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity · Heights Community Congress · IRTF · Journey Center for Safety and Healing · Lake Erie Ink · LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland · LEAP · May Dugan Center · NAMI Greater Cleveland · NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation · Near West Theatre · Neighborhood Pets · NEOCH · New Agrarian Center · Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio · Policy Matters Ohio · Preterm · Providence House · Slavic Village Development · Tremont West Development Corporation · Union Miles Development Corporation · Waterloo Arts · Women’s Recovery Center

      Esperanza and Cleveland Transformation Alliance Connect Spanish Speakers with School Choice

      Xiomara Hernandez-Marcelo, a Family Engagement and School of Choice Specialist with Esperanza, loves spending her work day helping support Spanish-speaking Cleveland families in whatever ways they need, especially when it relates to access to education.

      As a Cleveland State University graduate student and former Cleveland Transformation Alliance intern, Hernandez-Marcelo has always enjoyed being in the community and connecting with families. In her current role, she helps by connecting them with Esperanza programs and services or those of other Spanish-speaking partners in the Greater Cleveland community. “I love that when our clients come to us (almost always by word of mouth) it doesn’t just feel like we’re providing a service. We’re like a family; we’re all connected. I want our families to know that they have education options.” Eager to listen, she knows that parents know what their children need. It’s her job to connect the dots and help them advocate for their children and themselves.

      As a School of Choice specialist, she is also a trained School Quality Ambassador working with Cleveland Transformation Alliance staff to assist with making their services available to Hispanic families. This includes reaching out to families who speak Spanish as a primary language and letting them know about school choice resources in Cleveland, whether they are looking for additional services within their current school or making a school transition. She makes sure they are aware of how to register for school and how to do their research to find a school that meets their students’ needs.

      Esperanza has always prided itself in its open-door policy, trying to be available to families based on an extended schedule that works around parent employment schedules. Since the pandemic, however, they’ve become mostly remote and contact has included a lot of text and tech support with limited in-office capacity for an onsite learning pod to help Spanish-speaking middle school students with remote learning.

      Hernandez-Marcelo recalls a recent situation in which she helped an out of state mother locate the “right fit” schools for her two high school students,  “I like to ask parents and listen to them because they know what their kids need or have interest in — and you can tell they may have not been asked those questions before.” Getting to know families is the essence of school choice, from her perspective, and she often finds that clients have more school options than they realized.

      To learn more about Esperanza’s commitment to building the confidence and skills of Spanish-speaking youth and adults in Northeast Ohio through free, personalized mentoring and family support programs, visit them online at

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