After more than 100 years of serving a community anchored by its cultural institutions and a university, Cleveland Heights High School needed to change. Recognizing that the old comprehensive model wasn’t able to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, in 2003 the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District partnered with KnowledgeWorks and started a journey toward a new kind of high school.
The beginning was challenging as a small cadre of educators worked to convince the community, students, parents and teachers that dividing the campus into small schools would allow them to provide more personalized and demanding studies for all students.
Each year, as educators became more comfortable with change and students adapted to a more intimate learning environment, progress was made. Each of the new small schools began to establish its own identity. Community organizations partnered with the school to support change. The graduation rate rose and overall student performance improved.
But even as the first three small schools graduated their charter classes in 2008, challenges remained. Student achievement had fluctuated over time and gains were not equal across all schools. Discipline problems remained an impediment to instruction.
One key to meeting these challenges was leadership. The small schools model gives teachers a greater voice in their schools’ futures and calls on more educators to step up to lead. As with any aspect of change, the need to learn new roles created both conflict and opportunity.
This is the story of how leadership evolved in one small school.