Everything from No Child Left Behind and community engagement to bedroom slippers and bathrobes were discussed at the Christ Church Outreach Forum when newly elected Cincinnati Public School (CPS) Board President Eileen Cooper Reed took the microphone Jan. 18.
After a few opening remarks Reed asked participants, mostly senior citizens, to share their thoughts and ask questions.
Parental involvement was one of the most frequently raised topics. Suggestions ranged from having parents sitting in a classroom for several hours a day to monitor teacher performance and volunteering as a means to help student achievement. One participant thought this wouldn't be a hardship because he saw a parent picking up her child in bedroom slippers and a bathrobe, so she "obviously" isn't working and can spare the time.
Reed's response personified the diplomacy that helped her win the post that she describes as "primarily titular."
"I won't comment on a specific situation when I don't have all of the details," she said.
Reed went on to explain that her experience tells her many parents are involved in their schools as much as they can be, given the constraints imposed by full-time and dual-income employment responsibilities.
She believes involvement in the public schools is the responsibility of all citizens, and that begins with an invitation.
"The issue is the invitation," Reed said.
"If you don't feel welcome, you're not coming."
After the forum Reed explained that she hopes to promote more community involvement. She used an example from her first year on the board to explain how that can work.
"I chaired the Student Achievement Committee last year, and one of the things we had to deal with was develop and adopt a wellness policy," she began. "What I did was held a public meeting, where people could actually come and sit down around a table and said, 'Here's a proposed policy — go for it. Tell us what you want, change it and then recommend it back to us.'
"Anybody who was interested in nutrition and physical activity came and did that. We're trying in our Public Partnership and Engagement Committee to find additional ways to make sure the community can be involved in different kinds of ways."
Test scores as punishment
During her brief opening remarks at the start of the forum, Reed identified three key issues from 2006 that caused "a lot of turmoil in the community."
"We made a significant change by getting rid of our curriculum department and moving to a different kind of curriculum deployment out to the district," she said. "We have gone from a certain number of schools in the FMP to a different number of recommended schools in the Facilities Master Plan. We had one state report card to see how our schools were doing."
Differentiating the state grade card from the No Child Left Behind evaluation, Reed was blunt in her praise and criticism of that legislation.
"I think there are some things about the No Child Left Behind Act that are wonderful," she said. "One thing that is wonderful is the need to have data displayed, aggregated, so that we know how all our children are doing. Prior to No Child Left Behind, it was pretty easy to hide data and for people not to know how poor children were doing, for instance, or Hispanic children or African-American.
"The part I don't particularly care about are the high-stakes testing, because I think testing ought not to be used to punish students. Testing ought to be used to let teachers know what they need to be teaching. The sanctions are a bit strict. If a school is considered to be operating at a level called 'improvement' for too long, it can be taken over by the state. While keeping the pressure on to make sure all students achieve and deal with the issues of the achievement gap ... it seems that they're going to have to change some of the sanctions because there's no way the states could operate all the different systems across the United States."
'Those are my children'
What Reed would rather see as a tool for improving student achievement is a return to higher expectations.
"I am appalled by the mediocrity on our public educational system ... particularly urban education systems," she said. "We've got to be demanding an excellent education for these children. Our teachers ought to expect excellence out of each and every one of our children. They'll get excellence of a kind from every child, whatever that child has that's excellent."
As Reed continued, her tone became more passionate.
"I don't care if they're poor, and I don't care if they're black," she insisted. "I am not going to let teachers use that as an excuse why they can't teach these children. I refuse to accept it because these are my children, so don't tell me they can't learn."
After an "Amen" from the audience, she apologized for getting carried away, but the gathering of more than 60 people responded with applause.
This willingness to point to a problem and speak about it in plain terms is a strength Reed says she brings to position of board president.
"One of the things I'm willing to do is talk about the hard issues as the president that I probably wouldn't have as much of a chance to talk about before," she said after the forum. "People do invite me to talk, but they'll really invite me more now because I'm president. It'll enable me to identify issues that are important that might not otherwise be addressed.
"You can't really address an issue unless you acknowledge it as one. I believe we have a dropout problem, but we're not talking about it. It's a national crisis, it's not just here, but we're not talking about it because we don't seem like kids are dropping out. Well, they are. All you have to do is drive down the street to know that. The question is, what are we doing about that?"
Reed was chosen board president by a vote of her fellow CPS Board of Education members, all of whom are elected by city voters. She replaces Susan Cranley and serves a one-year term as president. ©