The onset of spring school decision making is one aspect of education that hasn’t changed during the pandemic. Now is the time of year when families and students are considering their options for next year, with open enrollment and/or the application process underway in most Cleveland district and charter schools. Students in pre-school may be staying in their current school or transitioning to a new school for kindergarten. Eighth-grade students and their families are likely weighing the many quality highschool options in greater Cleveland, which will also pave the way for participation in the Say Yes to Education college scholarship program.
Choosing the right school for your child can be overwhelming. Thankfully, Cleveland families do not have to go it alone. After a successful pilot last year, the School Quality Navigator program has returned with a new cohort of informative and professional staff members who are available to provide support, information and a personal connection through all phases of the school choice process.
Anju Abdullah has been working with Cleveland Transformation Alliance for over five years, first as an ambassador in the community, distributing School Quality Guides at events and completing family surveys to inform the community reviews on MyCleSchool.org website. In her new role as a School Quality Navigator, Anju enjoys the opportunity to engage directly with families, hear their concerns and provide assistance. One recent example is a family that is moving closer to downtown and wanted to know more about nearby schools, she was able to discuss four nearby school options and provide information so they could follow up with tours at each school. A longtime Cuyahoga County county employee, Anju’s experience in social services and public education programming makes her a tremendous asset to the families she is working with.
On the flip side, her colleague Natalie Ziegler is a recent “northeast Ohio boomerang” who returned from Rochester, NY to participate in the Cleveland Foundation fellowship program where she served at the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Natalie re-discovered a love for Cleveland in her library role, where she engages with students and families. Natalie sees a lot of parallels between Rochester and Cleveland and credits her library experience with informing her approach to working with families and community engagement, “When I’m in library world, I’m working with people to help them with paperwork, research for personal family issues, faxes or copies of divorce papers, etc. — even helping someone find a new book to read.”
Like Anju, this kind of personal connection is central to Natalie’s interactions with Cleveland families. She is inspired by “the way parents and families are connected and rooted in supporting each other,” recalling one parent who has been in the district for 20 years. Now, as an alumni parent, she is one of many people who Natalie thinks of as champions for Cleveland schools — which she sees as a counter to the news/media perspective often portrayed.
In addition to Anju and Natalie, Maxine Williams has returned for her second year in this role. She is a Cleveland parent who also works at the Cleveland Public Library adjacent to CMSD’s Marion Sterling school, and helped with the initial pilot program in 2019. “We did such a good job,” she said, prompting families to stay in touch with her even after the program ended. Williams enjoyed learning more about Cleveland schools alongside the families she served. Before becoming a navigator, she said, “I didn’t know that you could go to any school or that schools had specialized programs,” she said. “The Navigator program took me out of the library and gave me a more in-depth connection with the community. I love being able to measure our success.”
Navigator support can include phone calls, in-person meetings, Zoom conferences, and online assistance navigating the tools and resources that are available to help Cleveland families searching for the “right fit” school for their children. With updates to the School Quality Guide (both in print and online), a new Family Resource Center, and a growing School Quality Ambassador program, the Transformation Alliance hopes to connect with and support more families through partnerships and referrals.
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