A special report by The Tremonster
In late May, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) announced its emerging recommendation for the future of Tremont Montessori is to relocate the program to an existing, modernized building outside of Tremont. The final public input meeting on the district’s emerging recommendations on the future of our PreK-8 schools—including Tremont Montessori—was held on June 1st. Meetings were held throughout the district, with our CMSD Near-West Region held at Garrett Morgan Cleveland School of Science.
This meeting began with CMSD CEO Eric Gordon presenting information gathered before and during an initial public meeting series, which was held in early spring. Meeting attendees had been given clipboards with a copy of a survey and a copy of the CEOs presentation, which was also projected on two screens in the large auditorium.
Gordon’s presentation assembled academic data, enrollment data, program viability data, and building use and state of modernization data, along with ideas gathered during the first round of public meetings and the resulting CMSD emerging recommendations.
“Data only tells part of the story,” said Gordon. “The other part of the story comes from input. I want to say really clearly that I understand the data doesn’t tell us everything. That’s why we need input from all of you at this meeting and from people who have submitted through any way they can.”
Gordon also stressed the current CMSD recommendations are only emerging recommendations—and that even final recommendations would have to be adopted by the school board in order to take effect (no changes are planned until the 2020 – 2021 school year).
After presenting the benefits and drawbacks of the emerging CMSD recommendations to the meeting attendees, Gordon opened up a question and answer session.
Many Tremont residents made statements or asked questions, including meeting attendee Jim Naccarato, who asked those of the 70-plus in attendance to stand if they came primarily out of concern for Tremont Montessori. More than half the audience stood. Naccarato then asked Gordon what would become of the existing Tremont Montessori building. Naccarato said, “I hope it doesn’t come to this, but if there is a relocation…the building, itself—you can’t just leave that building there.”
Gordon responded, “With the building, itself, there are five things we can do under Ohio law. If we close the building, we are permitted to: 1) keep it in our stock of properties if we have a legitimate plan for use, 2) demolish it and turn the space into greenspace, 3) swap with the city for some other property in the city of mutual value, 4) make it available for charter schools to purchase, and 5) put it up for public bid. Those are the five things that we can do—there is a sequence to it: some things we must do first, some things we must do last. To the physical plant: it’s old. It’s an old building that’s in significant need of repair; the kitchen and dining room are on two separate floors…we know the building needs to be modernized at this point. In Ohio, ‘modernized’ means a new building because of the way the [state matching] dollars are set up—we don’t get the same state matching dollars for renovation—which is a shame, frankly, but it’s the reality. The facility, like many of these facilities, is in need of significant investment—not just repair, but investment. I hope that answers your question.”
Danielle Foran, another attendee of the public meeting, stated, “I can’t see how closing Tremont Montessori fits with the ‘planning together for the future of our city’ statement at the front of this auditorium. I wonder if Cleveland’s city development planning commission has been involved in making the recommendation to close Tremont Montessori School at all. You can’t walk a block in Tremont without seeing new construction aiming to bring density to our neighborhood. Tremont West has been working closely with the developers and residents to ensure this can happen. As a result of this great work, Tremont’s population aged five and under has increased 50% [over the past five years, according to the American Community Survey]. When I have asked families why they moved to Tremont, they list the sense of community, walkability, ease of commute and the new school building that was promised just last year. As you can imagine, they we’re all dismayed to hear that the school may close. Their response was, ‘Well, I guess we will be house hunting in a few years.’ If we want young families to choose Cleveland, then we need to give them a reason to stay for the long term. If we don’t, they will be taking their tax revenue and their children elsewhere. Most of us voted for a levy that included a new building in Tremont. Just last year, we met to discuss design plans for a new building. Now, we are meeting again to save the school we thought we had saved in 2010. As a tax payer, I should be able to send my child to a school in the safe neighborhood where I live and know that they are getting the best possible education.”
Tim Harrison, another CMSD public meeting attendee, said, “…I am the parent of two children at Tremont Montessori—a kindergartner and a third-grader. They’ll be devastated if they have to go somewhere else, and so I really don’t want to tell them that’s what they have to do. Right now, I’m saying, ‘Just take it easy…nothing’s decided, yet.’ I hope that’s true—I hope what I’m telling them is true.”
Gordon replied, “That is true.”
Tremont Montessori Principal Natalie Celeste, a meeting attendee, said to Gordon, “…I just want to thank you for your commitment to Montessori. Our teachers have been through many iterations, as you know, before both of our times, and Tremont is the newest iteration of the story. I trust you and I trust the board to try and make the best decision for our city overall. My heart is truly in Cleveland.”
Cory Riordan, Executive Director of Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC), also a meeting attendee, held up a stack of papers and said, “First of all, I want to say I have hundreds of signatures on a petition that I will bring to the board meeting (and also stamp and mail in). The funny thing is, this is the same petition—the same wording—as we had in the 2010-11 era, when they were going to close this school for the third time. We continue as a community to say: ‘Community is not community without a school at its center.’ As the neighborhood has evolved, and been re-invested in, that has not changed. We could have easily used that site to create condos there years ago. We’re asking CMSD to invest in the neighborhood. I don’t think that’s always the case. We’re asking CMSD to provide the school of choice for our neighborhood residents. We have been tasked before, Eric—as you know—we have been asked to have more kids coming from Tremont. I understand that we have a chicken-and-egg situation. When you have a quality pre-K that is five-star rated, it’s bursting at the seams. We have more kids under five than we have quality pre-K slots. What’s going to happen when we take 100 of those off the board? We’ve seen a doubling of the population under five. If I was seeing the population decline in that age group, I could see that as an issue for the school; that is not what we’re seeing. What we’re asking for you to do is invest in the neighborhood that’s growing and wants you there—wants you at the heart of it—and wants you to be part of the solution for all our kids. By the way, 10% of our kids come from Central [Neighborhood]—why is that? Because we provide a safe environment where they don’t have to walk a mile, they can get on the bus, they can come over to a safe neighborhood, and they can get a quality education. We want to see that continue as an option. Tremont Pointe kids are getting that quality education…the same quality kids get that are moving into new homes, correct?” Riordan provided a statistical breakdown reflecting the diverse population served by Tremont Montessori.
Gordon and the meeting attendees all stayed until all questions, follow-ups, and comments had been voiced. At that point, Gordon invited any attendee to stay and offer more input but brought the meeting to a close. After speaking to several attendees, individually, Gordon shared his thoughts with The Tremonster.
The Tremonster: We just finished the meeting. How did you feel things went? What are the takeaways?
Gordon: I thought we had a great meeting. We had a nice, large turnout—a diverse turnout. We had educators, families, and community members, so it represents all of us. People were very articulate in what they hope for, but in a very respectful way. I always appreciate engagement. I would much rather have that than people who are just not caring. And the themes are consistent across all of the meetings, which is very useful, because that gives me the ability to go to the board and say, “Here’s the data” and “Here’s the consistent themes,” so that we can consider what’s next.
The Tremonster: There was a strong following here for Tremont Montessori. Anything that you can divulge on the updates with that building and that part of the process?
Gordon: What I can say is that I’m going to take all of that feedback to the board and I’m going to say, “Here’s the opportunities I think we have.” I’ve committed to be very transparent about what I know and don’t have back pocket ideas sitting there that I haven’t revealed, so the next step is to take this feedback from the community and say, “Here’s everything I heard.” I said at the beginning of the presentation, “Data only tells part of the story; input tells the other.” The good news here is that across six meetings, the input—in not just Tremont but all of the neighborhoods—is consistent, so we have some clear, additional data in that input that I think will be really useful for the board.
The Tremonster: After the meeting, what’s the next step? What should people be on the lookout for, and how do they remain active?
Gordon: The next step is we will take this feedback, and I will be meeting with the board at a two-day retreat [held June 7-8] where we’re going to go through all of the information. They’re going to be able to look at any piece of written feedback that was given. I encouraged people, please write it down, or go to our website qualityschoolsforCLEkids.org. You can fill it out online. Or, email me and I’ll put it on the website. I want to go back and read and look at it. Also, the board has been at these meetings, but they haven’t had all nine members at all the meetings, so they want to read it, too. So, it’s really important that we have that. We’ll take whatever emerges from the board and we will push it back out to everybody that we’ve been able to access: people we’ve collected email addresses from. We will do press releases; we will do IVR that calls our homes; we’ll be reaching out to your paper and video and others so we can say, “Here’s the updates and here’s the process.” The board’s going to discuss any recommendations on June 11 at their board work session, and they’re going to have the first opportunity to vote—if they wish to—on June 25 at their board business meeting. That all comes out of that June workshop.
Since this meeting, CMSD has added several options to its current recommendation of relocating the Tremont Montessori program to an existing, modernized building outside Tremont. The new additional options recommended are alternative option 1: Consider options to embed Montessori “pathways” on east and west sides (e.g., PreK-3rd grade school-within-a-school model); Alternative option 2: Invest in Montessori model while remaining in the existing Tremont facility; Alternative option 3: Build a new facility (in Tremont or similarly central location) to house the Montessori model; Alternative option 4: Build new facility (in Tremont or similarly central location) to house non-Montessori model (which could serve as a replacement school for Scranton Elementary and/or Luis Munoz Marin School); and Alternative option 5: Maintain the program in its existing location.Tremonster Intern Doug Turrington contributed significantly to this report.