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State of the Schools Address and Food Adventurer's Passport Dinner

On Tuesday, September 30, we attended Cleveland School District CEO Eric Gordon's fourth State of the Schools address which was put on by the City Club of Greater Cleveland but held at the Cleveland Renaissance due to the large number of attendees which totaled 850 according to the Plain Dealer. Mr. Gordon was preceded by Ms. Megan O'Bryan, Executive Director of the Transformation Alliance who said that we are in an exciting time in which the groundbreaking Cleveland Plan becomes a reality. The program notes offered a short overview of the Cleveland Plan which is that it "involves a transition from a traditional centralized school district to a portfolio of schools employing different models and structures. This system has shifted budgetary and staffing responsibility back to the school site and embraced certain high performing charter schools as partners. Another key element to the Transformation Plan is the formation of the Transformation Alliance, an independent non-profit entity devoted to ensuring fidelity to the Cleveland Plan and marketing school options to Cleveland families." Mr. Gordon started off his speech by saying that last year when he gave this speech things were pretty "grim" because "we failed in achievement. Failed in progress. We failed to close the achievement gap and our grade when it came to graduating kids was an F." What's more "Plain Dealer" columnist Phillip Morris had compared him to King Sisyphus who, according to mythology, tried to roll a huge boulder up an impossibly steep hill. But thanks to the implementation of the Cleveland Plan, the passage of Ohio House Bill 525 (concerning management of the public schools in Cleveland), the passage of Issue 107 which produced more money for the school, and the new collective bargaining agreements things are turning around. Mr. Gordon devoted the rest of his speech to discussing how things have gotten better and still what needs to be done. He cited statistics that showed that during the 2013-2014 school year only 37% of the third graders were meeting the state's requirements in terms of reading but that number was raised to 86% by the start of this school year. The overall graduation rate is up 5% to a total of 12.1% since Mr. Gordon became the CEO. But there is still a lot that needs to be improved; this year Cleveland schools improved on 15 state achievement indicators while losing ground on 7. What we found most interesting, though, when Mr. Gordon talked about parental involvement. He said that "we worked to ensure that every parent attended at least one open house, student support team meeting, parent-teacher conference or other similarly meaningful event with the child's teacher and as a result 73.2% of parents district-wide engaged in a positive, meaningful engagement by the end of the year." During the Q and A we were pleased to see that several of the questions were asked by young students. A little girl from Newton D. Baker Elementary School asked Mr. Gordon how do we work without being tired? Mr. Gordon talked to her for a moment from the podium and said that "meeting someone like you makes it all worthwhile." Our friend Ms. Meryl Johnson asked Mr. Gordon about encouraging high school seniors who are 18 years old to vote and he said that he is working with the League of Women Voters to register these students to vote and to urge them to do so. He said that "we have a responsibility to teach democracy" and this should be part of the curriculum. We met a number of fine people today. We talked with Ms. Valentina Moxon, Academic Superintendent with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, who loved Ms. Wong's speech at the Lincoln-West Commencement in either 2012 or 2013. She ;iked Ms. Wong's "no-nonsense" style and thought that she was "funny". Both Ms. Marsha Mockabee, President of the Urban League, and Ms. Susan Gardner, Resource Development Associate with the United Way, said that they believed that Ms. Wong did "great work." We shared a table with Mr. Robert J. Triozzi; Attorney at Law with Calfee, Halter and Griswold; who is an old friend of Ms. Wong's and wishes her well. To the immediate right of us sat Ms. Lee Nielsen who is a good friend of our Mr. Gordon Landefeld and his wife and has hiked with them. She seemed to like us but still wanted us to convey to Mr. Landefeld that she really misses seeing him at the City Club. And to the immediate right of us sat Mr. Greg Hutchings, Superintendent of the Shaker Heights Schools, along with Mr. Stephen Wilkins, the Assistant Superintendent. We asked Mr. Hutchings what he liked about today and he replied that "progress I think is key. And we are showing that." Then Tuesday evening we had some fun at the latest "Food Adventurer's Passport Adventure" put on by's Dan Hanson and Debbie Hanson. Tonight's adventure took us to Europa Restaurant in Pepper Pike where we enjoyed a wonderful Russian dinner with plenty of salads for vegetarians like us. We loved it when our friend Mr. Ken Kovach got up and talked about the history of Russians living in Cleveland. Mr. Kovach said that this was the second time that he had been to Europa this week because he and his wife celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary there on Sunday night. Mr. Kovach has been to Russia perhaps 19 times in the past 20 years and has familial connections in the city of Volgograd. He said that you can trace Russian immigration to Cleveland back to about 1900 and St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral was the "mother church" for many. In fact, Mr. Kovach has been the Russian Orthodox choirmaster for about 40 years. He passed out information sheets about "Russians in the Greater Cleveland Area" from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History which read, "...The nature of the Russian population of Cleveland continues to evolve and that population is now larger than at any time in the city's past. Over 1,300 people of Russian birth lived in Cleveland and Cleveland Heights in 1990 while over 30,000 local residents claimed Russia as their primary ancestry in the census of that year. A large segment of the current Russian population lives in Mayfield Heights and surrounding communities. The estimated population of Russians (foreign-born and American-born) in the region is 40,000. We also heard from someone who is a relatively new arrival and that was Ms. Svetlana Stolyarova who is working so hard to put the Russian Cultural Garden together. Ms. Stolyarova and her husband, Alexander who was at Europa with us tonight too, immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1998 and got their green cards about 2001 and became citizens in 2004. Ms. Stolyarova told us that her husband is from Moscow but she is from Siberia, more specifically from the city of Ulan Uda which is next to Lake Baikal. She joked that the story of her life was moving from one great lake to another. She made the observation that one thing that Cleveland has in common with Russia is that both have about 117 nationalities and in Russia there are a lot of different languages, not just dialects. Ms. Stolyarova went on to say that it is a big challenge to be an immigrant in this country but that immigrants should be upheld because (as we have said) they embrace the opportunities here and start their own businesses and help to make the United States a great county. Moreover, she talked about the Russian Cultural Garden and its progress; she wants to dedicate it in 2016. It recently was the site of a piano concert which we attended. Ms. Stolyarova said she was touched by the generosity of those who have donated their hard-earned money to the Russian Garden as well as those who have worked so hard to maintain and protect the Cleveland Cultural Gardens over the years. To be sure, we saw a lot of people that we knew including Mr. Murat Gurer of the Turkish Center and learned that he and his wife are expecting a child on December 25th! Mr. Michael Simonek was there was his lovely new wife who had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. He asked the attendees what one gets and one crosses a parrot and a tiger. He didn't know himself but "you listen when it speaks". It is always nice to see Ms. Ingrida Bublys, Mr. Harry Weller, and Dr. Paramjit Singh and, of course, Mr. Richard Crepage who was at the State of the Schools speech at the City Club along with us earlier in the day. As for future "Passport Adventures", there will be one at Claddagh's Irish Pub in Lyndhurst on October 19th where the attendees will enjoy "an authentic Irish Breakfast". We have already emailed the Debbie and Dan to count us in.