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It is a widely accepted fact, backed up by many studies, that education plays an enormously important role in the economic success (or failure) of an individual, a community, a city, indeed, of an entire region. A high school graduate will on average earn more in his or her lifetime than a high school dropout; a college graduate, twice as much as someone who has only finished high school; an individual with post-graduate education, even more. Indeed, with the coming of a knowledge- and information-based economy, this will be truer than ever before. What is not as widely realized is that the general level of education in a community, or region, or state affects everybody’s prospects—for better, or for worse. It is a perfect example of how a rising tide lifts all boats, or conversely, of how a drastic lowering of the sea level can leave many boats—even the fastest, best-outfitted, most expertly steered ones—run aground and stranded on the reefs. The most innovative business ideas in the world are worthless without people with the skills to implement them.

Lifelong Learning Opportunities: This includes not only children and young adults preparing to enter the work force (and the polling booth) but those already there who are eager to qualify for a better or more challenging opportunity. This, too, is how cities advance.

Programs such as Digital Vision are providing life long learning opportunities for all residents by closing the digital divide.

In concept, training centers should be an ideal mechanism for providing residents with the opportunity to learn basic life skills. Unfortunately, the type of training and services provided at many centers here prepare participants only for jobs with minimal wages and minimal opportunities, in today’s highly educated workforce. Basic skills are just that: basic. Most of these centers don’t begin to offer the array of training and skills being taught in formal or private educational facilities such as Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University or John Carroll University. Until we find ways to give neighborhood residents access to the kind of training that will enable them to claim those jobs—or the skills to successfully launch and build a small business Cleveland will continue to experience high rates of poverty and low rates of educational and entrepreneurial achievement. Education opportunity is only half the key to progress; the other is access.

Figure 1 shows Digital Vision Technology Centers in Cleveland. These centers provide access to computers for individuals and communities lacking computer access or training. The provision of centers such as these offers the opportunities for lifelong learning and allows residents to maximize their potential.

Figure 1

Revitalizing Public Education: In the course of the 1990s, the city of Cleveland lost 16,000 married-couple households. Of course, it also welcomed some as new residents. But, this is the telling part, for every person the city gained, our suburban counterparts gained 40 (Source: In Focus, a Census 2000 profile published by the Brookings Institution). The principal reason given was married couples that might otherwise have chosen Cleveland as home because of other factors are faced with choosing their children over the amenities and unique advantages offered by city life. Their concern for the quality of their children’s education ranks first on the list of potential deal breakers.

This statistic should be a call to action for local leadership. The time has come to face this reality and take genuinely helpful action—in the form of new policies that will facilitate counter actions against this damaging trend, with so much at stake. Among the key factors that must be imaginatively and definitively addressed, if Cleveland is to be able to retain and attract families (and businesses) to the city, are: the condition of school buildings, student-teacher ratios, classroom curriculum, extra-curricular programming, adequate funding, graduation rates and public perception of Cleveland’s public schools. Failure to address these issues will lead to a further population decline in our city and its neighborhoods .

John Hay High School in University Circle is one of the district’s historic schools that has been restored due to its architectural & historic significance

Leading the recent initiatives underway in Cleveland is The CMSD School Building Rehabilitation Plan, which is already being implemented with the renovation, replacement or consolidation of all 120 schools within the Cleveland Municipal School District. Many of these structures are indeed worth saving. Constructed in the early part of the 20 th century, they were not only well constructed, with high quality materials and many elegant touches, but have architectural significant features or in some cases are associated with historical events that have made them important icons in their respective communities (see CMSD Historic Schools). For many neighborhood residents, these 49 historic schools embody their community’s heritage and serve as a symbol of continuity, contributing to a sense of place. In a growing number of urban communities around the U.S., such structures have, in the course of renovation, become vibrant community resource centers used by adults and families after hours for a variety of purposes, to the great benefit of the community. Often, renovating and updating these structures, while preserving and restoring their distinctive features, is not only more cost effective than demolition and replacement, it actually creates more jobs.

Louisa M Alcott K-8 school will house elementary, middle, & Junior High School students on one campus; a model typically seen in private institutions

Besides the physical condition of Cleveland’s public school buildings, two other key factors in the future of the city’s schools that should command the focus—and equally decisive action—of local government, parents, teachers and our school board in the years ahead are the need for improvements in educational resources, and the social conditions that have such a negative impact on CMSD students. As mentioned briefly above, several elementary and middle schools in the District are now in the process of being consolidated to form K-8 schools. This approach will allow students at the vulnerable “middle school” age, who often experience emotional disorientation and anxiety at being pulled from a familiar context and suddenly thrown in with strangers from other neighborhoods, to continue in a more communal and supportive atmosphere like the one found in many small town schools throughout the country. The District’s new K-8 program will also enable it to use limited resources more responsibly, which should positively impact future operating budgets.

Young Adults: The city of Cleveland also has a large number of young adults of high school or college age (16-24) who are not even enrolled in school, or have some school but no professional degree, and are in fact unemployed. In short, there exists a serious disconnect between that substantial segment of the population and the enormous opportunities offered by our higher educational facilities.

Although there are no short-term solutions to this huge problem, it is surely beyond disagreement that Cleveland residents desperately need better access to these educational resources. It is no secret that many high school graduates are woefully unprepared to take advantage of the opportunities offered at the college level; what is equally disturbing, however, is that many of the students who are qualified either can’t afford to attend college or, once there, or even having made it as far as graduate school, are forced to drop out for financial reasons or because they are needed at home. Not only are individual hopes and dreams being frustrated, but these lives and talents, and what they could have contributed to the community, are being wasted. Year after year, a real chance to break the cycle of poverty and build the more highly educated work force needed to attract and keep new high-tech businesses and the dollars they will generate is being lost.

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