‘Rite Idea: A Letter to Dr. Glasner


Dear Dr. Glasner,

Welcome to your new position in the Shaker Heights City School District. By now, you know we’re an unusually diverse community that strives to embrace the differences that make us unique. We often succeed in achieving that goal, but like all school districts, we have our flaws.

You probably won’t find a community as critical of these flaws as we are. At first, this acknowledgement of our faults can seem harsh and unforgiving. However, our self-criticism isn’t intended to tear down the district. Rather, it stems from a collective desire to bring this community as close to perfection as possible. As Shaker students, we not only want our schools to do better for us, but also for every student who will follow us. Our community feels the same. Shaker’s progress is forged in the crucible of criticism.

We don’t doubt that we create a challenging environment in which to lead. However, while we do have an extraordinary capacity for fault-finding, we celebrate our successes with similar passion.

A body only grows stronger by breaking itself down and rebuilding. There’s no doubt that Shaker has broken down, this year more than most. If you look closely at these pieces, however, you will see the potential we have to rebuild.

When Fernway Elementary School burned down, the community mourned together. But from that destruction emerged an opportunity for improvement. The Fernway narrative quickly turned away from sorrow and toward fortitude, dedication and investment in the school’s future. Fernway is well on its way to a new and improved facility, and we hope the rest of Shaker can follow in its path.

In addition to a new elementary school, Shaker sorely needs a restored relationship between its teachers and administration. The two groups, which had been drifting apart since 2015, are now fully estranged. In order for the administration to make the best choices for students, you’ll need to start and maintain an open and honest dialogue with teachers — the adults in this building who know us, the students, the best.

A new superintendent, having worked in the district or not, enjoys the advantage of a clean slate ‒ and with it comes a new opportunity to forge a solid, lasting and trusting bond with our teachers. Teachers need to know where they stand with your administration. Will their opinions be honored when it comes time to choose a principal? Will they have a say in curriculum changes of a similar magnitude to the removal of the Woodbury science labs? What can teachers say to students about their performance and behavior, and what can’t they? How will the administration react to teacher-student conflicts in the future?

These bonds might be forged best by shared experience. Encourage teachers to become administrators, and support them in that process. Administrators who have walked in teachers’ shoes know how to accommodate staff frustrations and create better policies because of them. Mostly, however, administrators who have experience in the classroom know how to steer the schools in the best direction for their students.

Continuity counts, too. In the past five years, teachers and students have seen too many new faces, and it would be comforting to see familiar ones.

We know, though, that our needs aren’t the only ones you will attend to. A large part of your job is balancing the needs of everyone around you. You are the middle-man between the budget’s restraints and the needs of this community. Allow push and pull between the two, because it’s necessary for our well-being. But don’t choose sides.

No one loves the middle-man, but if he does his job right, he is respected. And the best reward you can earn in your position is the respect of this community. We can tell that you care about these schools, and for that, we respect you.

In 2015, after a Lomond kindergartener asked to go to his locker and instead left the school and was picked up by a police officer, the district put his teacher, Cathleen Grieshop, on administrative leave. The community packed the next Board of Education meeting having heard that the administration intended to fire the teacher. Grieshop had notified the office of the boy’s failure to return after a few minutes, and many saw the district’s actions as unfair. As he reflected on the low teacher morale that ensued, former Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. offered advice for Shaker’s next superintendent. “They’re going to have to be a leader that really doesn’t take things personal,” he said.“Sometimes there’s a little drama. You have to rise above it. You can’t get into it.”

But we don’t want you to rise above the drama. We want you to take everything that happens in this school district personally. While we don’t seem like a small town, we resemble one. For better or for worse, this community is close-knit. Everything that happens here should matter to you — any communication mistake, student-teacher problem or scheduling error. These things should all be personal to you because they’re personal to us. We want you to care enough about the well-being of this district to take responsibility for every broken piece, even if it doesn’t directly involve you.

It’s your job to lead us, and we trust you to do that. You have our best wishes for the future.



The Shakerite Editorial Board

A version of this article appears in print on pages 46-49 of Volume 89, Issue II, published April 26, 2019.

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