Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Superintendent’s Opening Letter: Excellence is Engagement

Dr. Talisa DixonAugust 24, 2018

Dear CH-UH School Community,

Another school year is already upon us, and it’s hard to believe summer break has come and gone. We were excited to welcome back our students and staff this week, as we embark on what I’m sure will be a successful 2018-2019 school year in CH-UH.

Last year, we centered our efforts on the theme “Creating a Culture of Excellence”. We wanted to be intentional about striving for excellence in every facet of our District. This remains our goal in 2018-2019--our students deserve nothing short of excellence from all of us.

Goal 2 of our Strategic Plan takes on this notion of excellence directly: “Excellent education is provided to each student in every District school and classroom.” Excellence is not reserved for some of our students--instead, we need to focus on excellence for each and every one of our 5,000+ students across the District.

Sounds simple, right? I wish it were, but excellence for all cannot happen unless the right systems are in place. Our educational approach--Equity, Empowerment, and Opportunities--can only become a reality when we have evidence that we have systems in place that ensure our students have equitable access to programming and are being afforded the same opportunities as their peers.

These systems work best when created through meaningful engagement. Having conversations with various stakeholders--parents, teachers, students, and community members--increases our opportunity to improve our service and implement systems that will benefit all students.

We began some of these engaging conversations last year with my monthly coffee chats at various locations in the community. In fact, there are systems and programs in place now that began as ideas brought up at these chats. This year, we want to expand our engagement opportunities and tap into the ideas and experiences of our stakeholders.

Families - Increasing ways to engage our families has been a targeted goal for some time. Last year, we brought on a family engagement coordinator to facilitate district and building activities and to develop a strategy for engaging more families in the work happening in our schools. 

These efforts are important as we partner with families to help students achieve academic success. However, we also recognized that many families could benefit from learning about various resources available and the skills needed to make this a successful partnership. This Saturday, August 25, we are hosting our inaugural Heights Family Academy to do just that. All of our families are invited to Heights High for a day of learning and fellowship.

I also know that family engagement can be strongest at the neighborhood level. This is why you might have seen our elementary principals in their school neighborhoods greeting new Kindergarten families and passing out “Home of a New Heights Tiger” yard signs. We want to be a District whose staff is connected to their communities, both in the building and in the neighborhood.

Students - At the end of last school year, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion with students for a documentary that the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) is producing. This organization wanted to hear from a student’s perspective on how CH-UH was addressing equity.  I invited them to film me during a luncheon with 12 Heights High students to review our equity efforts. The feedback was powerful. There were tears, laughter, and total candor from each student. I was reminded that the voices of our students must continue to be heard. Several of the students agreed to serve on this year’s Superintendents’ Cadre, and I’m looking forward to working with that group throughout the year.

Staff - Our District has several committees of teachers and staff who work together to improve building culture. One of these committees is Summit, which is comprised of five administrators and five Cleveland Heights Teachers Union members.  We meet monthly to collaborate on ways to resolve issues that arise throughout the school year. This year, one of our first issues to tackle is improving internal communications. We plan to roll out a strategy to address this issue early in the fall.

Community - I recognize that we are fortunate to have a community full of expertise in various areas. In 2014-2015 we were able to tap into this source by engaging more than 400 community stakeholders in crafting our current Strategic Plan. We’ve also had many of you participate in various task force groups to help us lift different initiatives, from the Community in Schools Task Force to the Grading Task Force and our Gifted Task Force. Last year we also established the new Bond Accountability Commission to help guide the work and inform the community about the middle school renovations and the Master Facilities Plan. This year we are going to deepen our engagement with community stakeholders by forming new citizen committees, especially in the areas of finance and public education advocacy.

I hope that by reading this you are encouraged to find a way to engage with our District, either in your neighborhood school, with one of your student’s activities, or as part of a District-wide task force. There will certainly be no shortage of opportunities.

Let’s continue the great start to the year and work together as “One Tiger Nation” to serve all our students.
Talisa Dixon signature 
Dr. Talisa Dixon
Superintendent, CH-UH City School District 

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