Kentucky supporters plead with board to keep school open
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, May 2005) Supporters of Kentucky School brought their hopes for their school and their neighborhood to present to school board members at a public meeting held at Lincoln West High School on April 11th. The crowd of over a hundred people included parents, students, community members and members of the staff at Kentucky School. The school is located on W. 38th just south of Franklin. Board of Education Chair Margaret Hopkins and board members Gladys Santiago and Robert Heard attended the meeting and listened to the testimony. The staff of an independent community organization ran the meeting.

Particularly moving was the testimony of supporters of the Newcomers’ Program, which moved to Kentucky School from Tremont last year. The program serves children who are new to this country. Speech pathologist Colleen McSweeney testified that children in the program come from thirteen different countries including African nations such as Somalia/Bantu, Liberia, Congo and Uganda; Eastern European nations such as the Ukraine and parts of Central and South America. She said it is particularly difficult for this population when their routine becomes disrupted.

Speaking through translators, a number of refugees from the Liberian civil war urged “the American government” to keep Kentucky open.

A Liberian man said, “We have come a long way from Liberia where there is a civil war. We are the least privileged group. Coming to school is a problem because we have no means of transportation. Let Kentucky be, so refugees will survive. Please we are begging.”

A Liberian woman testified, “Teachers are doing best for children. Children are doing the best they have done. Our children are walking to school. If Kentucky closes, they will have to walk farther. If it closes, our children will be put in danger.”

Marjean A. Perhot, Director of Catholic Charities Parish and Community Ministries Migration and Refugee Services, testified to the time and effort spent placing the Liberian/Bantu families in the neighborhood and orienting the families to the school and the school to the needs of the children. Perhot says 47 children were introduced to the Newcomers program at Kentucky School this year and eleven more are expected to enter the program next year. She praised the staff at Kentucky School for their support of the children. She said staff members came up to her asking, “What can we do to help with food and clothing?” She said that in the small school environment at Kentucky School the children are getting a lot of nurturing.

Another refugee mother said, “I beg the American government not to close Kentucky School. Please keep it open. I am very happy with teachers and what they are doing. “ She then expressed concern about going to another school, “If you take from one house to another house, my child will not be able to catch up with other children.”

Another parent said, “The children belong to the culture of that school. If children are taken to another school, it will be very difficult.”

A concerned Liberian mother said, “We know where Kentucky is. Even taking the bus, I know where Kentucky is. On foot I know where Kentucky is. I am very happy with what they are doing with our children. I am afraid if Kentucky is closed, I will get lost if directed to another school. I want government of America not to close this school. Our children are doing good at this school. I wish Kentucky should not be closed.”

To this group of newcomers to the Near West Side, the Cleveland school board indeed represents the American government. One of the criteria set by the school board when evaluating whether or not to close a school is “student impact.” The heart felt testimony of the refugees certainly gives the board members much to contemplate.

Bill Merriman, a resident of the Ohio City neighborhood for 35 years testified, “if you pull the public school out of the neighborhood, families will not come.”  He said if you “take away families you will diminish who we are as a neighborhood.”  Merriman noted that the Hope VI rehab at Lakeview Terrace is starting to bring new families with children to the neighborhood. Future planned rehab at Riverview will also bring in families.

Antionette Dozier, a leader of the Kentucky Parent Teacher Association, noted that a lot of children at Kentucky walk to school every day. She noted the district no longer pays for buses. “If you take Kentucky away, where will they go? How far? Will they get to school?”

Responding to a questions as to what would you like to see if the school had to be closed, Dozier responded, “There are not enough dollars in the world to replace our teachers and staff. Our teachers are the best. If you take our building away, we all want to be together.”

Responding to the same question, Merriman replied the new school should have a garden across the street, a playground across the street like Fairview Park, after school programs close-by in the neighborhood, be connected to Lakeview and Riverview, be close to a caring community. In short, he said, “The new school should be exactly where it is at.”


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