Aug. 10, 2017 -- On Sunday, July 30, the Cleveland Foundation asked communities across Cuyahoga County to engage in a dialogue on creating a more equitable and resilient community. One of the main goals of the event, called Common Ground, was to present a central idea with an open-ended question that would “encourage participants to think creatively and reflect on possibilities, rather than fixate on already identified challenges.”
For CH-UH Schools, there were many good reasons to host a table and open the conversation. Engagement, partnerships and communication, as well as equity, empowerment and opportunities are but a few expectations that fuel implementation of the district’s strategic plan. A partnership with the City of Cleveland Heights made the use of Cain Park an ideal location for creative conversations that could connect the community for input. A shady spot, on an 80 degree day, atop the Cain Park hill set the stage for partners to eat, drink, and have authentic conversations.
More than 40 host sites registered for Common Ground; the CH-UH Schools table was one of the first to quickly fill all seats. “We wanted to leave it open and hear from the community but knew a small group of 20 would be ideal,” explained Lisa Hunt, CH-UH Parent Engagement Specialist and coordinator of the event. “My experience with our Equity Task Force has made me aware of how fragile this work can be and how necessary it is to keep groups small to ensure that people feel safe enough to express themselves honestly.” The Equity Policy uses a Lead Tool to measure progress, inclusive of finding ways to engage in two-way conversations to build a better understanding of the diversity of beliefs, cultural and social capital in the school community.
Eighteen attendees, diverse in age, race, economics and time within the community brought electric energy to the unique gathering. Superintendent Dixon and CH-UH Board of Education Member Beverly Wright also attended the event and had the opportunity to meet new community members and share in the process. One guest, Family Connections’ Home-school Coordinator Charniece Holmes, expressed that “the day gave me a chance to have deeper, transparent conversations that were honestly, at times, uncomfortable but truly valuable. Some people I have known for years, but our Common Ground conversations gave us a chance to connect and find that we do have common ground. It's these types of meaningful interactions that allow us all to grow.”
After taking the “Civility Rules! Pledge,” everyone participated in an ice breaker song and a “word soup” partnership activity to unpack definitions and unlock dialogue around weighty constructs. Next, give groups formed and were charged with answering a question provided by the Foundation. One question tackled was: What are two positive things about our community and how can we use these positive attributes to better our collective future? Participant Michael Salkind shared how, “great it was to engage with fellow CH-ers to grapple with some of the challenges to help make our schools be more successful.” In answering the questions together, attendees built new relationships and gained greater understanding of differing viewpoints to try to find solutions and suggestions.
“I am so happy I attended the Common Ground event centered on equity and resilience in our schools. It was refreshing to be around likeminded community members who are invested in building a better, stronger community with more equitable schools,” shared Boulevard teacher Julie Walker.
The event ended with many at the table asking what happens next. What was evident from the #CommongroundCLE tag on social media was that a great number of Cleveland communities were eager to engage. In the CH-UH Schools, continuing the work and building up from Common Ground is all a part of the plan.