Clintonville Parents Support City Schools Through Grassroot Efforts
Columbus is regularly touted and recognized as a growing, thriving and intelligent community. But the one area that locals are likely to universally agree needs vast improvements is with the education system at Columbus City Schools. With over 50,000 students and 4,000 teachers, it’s the largest district in the state, and has become a bit of a black eye on the city through a series of administrative scandals in the past few years.
While new Superintendent Dr. Dan Good has been working on reform from the top-down, several parent groups have begun working from the ground-up to help make improvements to individual schools and individual classrooms. Clintonville Go Public is one such group, having been formed in 2011 to work on issues at Clinton, Indian Springs and Colerain Elementaries, Dominion Middle School and Whetstone High School.
We spoke recently with Clintonville Go Public organizers Karina Brown and Laura Kraus to find out more about the group’s mission and what they’ve been able to accomplish in their first three years. Our full interview can be found below:
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the origins of Clintonville Go Public for anyone who is unfamiliar with the group?
A: Clintonville Go Public began at the bus stop among a group of Columbus City Schools elementary parents discussing a simple (but frequent) question, “What are you going to do about school?”. Which commonly is followed up with, “Where are you going to move?”.
What followed were a series of long conversations around dining room tables and three things quickly became clear: We loved our community, we didn’t want to leave, and we needed to learn more about our neighborhood public schools. What we learned from our building principals convinced us to not only stay, but also to organize around a shared vision — a world in which communities support and embrace their neighborhood public schools and both flourish as a result.
After an inspiring meeting with How to Walk to School authors, Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland, followed by a series of strategic planning sessions and neighborhood meetings, the informal parent group created the nonprofit organization, Clintonville Go Public.
Q: What tactics and strategies has Clintonville Go Public utilized to help support the school both in the classroom and outside of it?
A: Our strategic plan focuses on five key impact areas: enhancing and improving academics, supporting enrichment, strengthening our neighborhood, commanding resources, and building a positive reputation.
After attaining a comprehensive understanding of the academic strengths and weaknesses in the entire Whetstone pathway (which is an ongoing effort), we identified several tactics to impact our key areas. We held open houses; community meetings; preschool information sessions; and kindergarten, middle school and high school community-building gatherings so that families and students could connect with current families and educators. We engage the community daily through social media channels, and current PTA communications. And we link Clintonville time, treasure and talent in a coordinated manner to crowd-source needs identified by our principals and teachers. From sprucing up marketing materials and teachers lounges to purchasing classroom supplies and offering field trip scholarships, we continue to seek ways to bring more resources into the schools.
Most of our work in each of these areas is focused on the Clintonville neighborhood and schools within the boundaries, but energy and resources also support the elementary pathway schools that feed into Dominion Middle School and Whetstone High School. For example, we have recently been able to fund projects at Como Elementary and Weinland Park Elementary.
Our schools are not perfect and neither are our neighborhoods. There is much work to be done. But linking hands seems to us to be the way to advocate successfully in a complicated and political environment.
Q: What successes have been most noteworthy so far?
A: In 2013, we hosted a Prom Remix fundraiser raising more than $15,000 to renovate the library and performing arts spaces at Dominion Middle School. Due to its tremendous success, this Friday we will be holding our second-annual fundraising initiative, Masquerade at Strongwater. Proceeds from the event will fund technological resources targeted at reducing the economic and social inequalities of the digital divide for students at Dominion Middle School and Whetstone High School.
Q: Anything that Clintonville Go Public has tried that has not worked well?
A: There have been bumps along the way. Changing a community conversation surrounding misconceptions can be a challenge, especially in a school district that seems to always be in the news and where trust has been damaged. The needs in district are monumental, but ultimately we must focus on the immediate impact (no matter how minute) we can make in our neighborhood. It’s a cliché — but thinking globally while acting locally is our ethos. The neighborhood public schools are strong, diverse, and filled with educators and families who are engaged and excited. The organization is committed to shining a light on those educators, and aspires to not allow diversions to distract us from that core mission.
A: We have much to learn ourselves, but we recommend building trusting and collaborative relationships with your building principals, teachers, and PTAs. This is a key lesson we gathered from Jaqueline and Susan’s relationship in How to Walk to School. When Jaqueline approached Susan with a list of needs or complaints, she led an effort to also deliver a collaborative solution. Also, don’t do it if it’s not fun! It’s got to be fun if we are asking people to commit countless hours of their precious free-time.
Q: For those interested in the Masquerade at Strongwater, what can attendees expect at the event?
A: Speaking of fun… this time we are pulling out all the stops, and it promises to be a raucous good time! With the support of our generous community partners, our guests will enjoy incredible food provided by Strongwater Food & Spirits, desserts by Mozart’s, specialty spirits (Blue Devil Bomber & Braves Bull), carnival games, tarot readings, great music, dancing and a finale performance by drag queen Vivi Velure!
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: As we move forward and advocate for our neighborhood pathway schools, it is our mission to nurture ongoing connections between our schools, the community, and other grassroots parent organizations like ours. The idea that transformational change can occur neighborhood school by neighborhood school because of strong parental engagement and local community support sparks a new way of collaborating with our schools. This grassroots approach allows each community to formulate their own neighborhood solutions, while also ensuring the success of all the children across the city.
For more information, visit www.clintonvillegopublic.org.
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