Navigating School Choice in Cleveland: No reason to go it alone
“We want to meet families wherever they are,” says program coordinator Eli Stacy about the Cleveland Transformation Alliance’s recently re-launched Navigator program. The program is an extension of the Alliance’s commitment to being a partner for Cleveland families choosing from the variety of high-quality options in Cleveland’s public school landscape, which includes both district and charter schools.
With the continued unknowns and challenges caused by COVID-19, this commitment to families will be both figurative and literal. The Transformation Alliance will equip their Navigators with the tools needed to fully support and inform families at each stage of the decision-making process – from initial inquiries to research and assistance overcoming barriers that can affect a student or family’s access to quality education.
Navigator support can include phone support, 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.
This will expand the organization’s services to meet the needs of families who need guidance in navigating the school choice process as well as those with more complicated issues and concerns.
“We want our Navigators to provide a continuation of support for everyone in the CMSD footprint, to be that go-to-resource,” said Stacy. Our goal is to help families work through transportation concerns, language barriers, and IEP issues and collaborate with other organizations in the education landscape to ensure that every student and family feels confident in their educational opportunities.
Maxine Williams, a Cleveland parent who also works at the public library adjacent to CMSD’s Marion Sterling school, helped with the initial pilot program last year in the Central neighborhood. “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. “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.”
While she has always known and helped students in the library, Williams rarely saw any tangible results from efforts like food drives, donations, etc. As a Navigator, though, she has been able to accompany families from beginning to end in their school choice journey, knowing that educational choices and opportunities will benefit those students for years to come.
Wyndi Moore, another Cleveland parent and Navigator who keeps in touch with several families she met during the pilot program, is looking forward to collaborating with Cleveland’s grassroots organizers. Many neighborhood groups have stepped in to meet the needs of their communities since COVID-19. Recently, the Navigator team went to visit Carl Cook, founder of Project Save, who has been hosting weekly resource “open house” events to provide Ward 5 residents with food delivery, food pantry, hygiene and personal care items, activities/bikes for youth, legal support and economic housing assistance as well as mental health services. We look forward to including school choice and advocacy information as a resource for families who attend the weekly Project Save events.
As the coming school year approaches, Wyndi recognizes that there will be many questions about how to meet children’s academic needs amid the uncertainty of social distance recommendations and remote learning challenges. Being involved in weekly events like those hosted by Project Save is one way Wyndi sees Cleveland Transformation Alliance being able to work with and for families who have questions and concerns about school choice and registration.
To learn more about the Navigator Program, Cleveland Transformation Alliance, and the variety of school choice resources available to Cleveland families, visit myCLEschool.org.
The mission of the Transformation Alliance is to ensure every child in Cleveland attends a quality school and every neighborhood has a multitude of great schools from which families can choose.
Founder of WISH Cleveland & Good Cause Creative. Writer. Consultant. Social Justice Advocate. "I love the power of a good story, the last five minutes of yoga class, reading past my bedtime and learning more about the messy art of being human from my husband and three children."