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August 07, 2005

The Future of the Cleveland Municipal School District

Patrick Leier is the Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District, a transient community in the sprawling Los Angeles basin with a population of about 200,000 (40,000 students). Most households in Pomona live below the poverty line. Back in 1995 nearly 70% of students in the School District didn’t attend the same school for three years either having dropped out of school or their families moving to new addresses.

Over the past decade, Leier has helped turn around the Pomona Unified School District. Most impressive, Leier’s efforts are informed by a philosophy that education can be an engine of community development and transformation rather than the traditional “deficit” orientation which sees the school system as symptomatic or even the root cause of the community’s general malaise.

While there are a certain number of headaches that come with the territory, Leier has demonstrated that a combination of vision, entrepreneurship, and technological insight can lead a School system as well as the entire community to a sense of pride and accomplishment.

The eVillage at Indian Hill is part of Leier’s legacy. Leier realized that both the School District and the City needed a marquee landmark project to mobilize community support and to create a highly visible symbol of the power of the possible.

Under Leier's leadership, the district purchased a depressed regional mall and turned it into the eVillage at Indian Hill. Part urban renewal, part community project, part school, part technology infrastructure hub, the location offers a unique and intriguing model for communities everywhere.

The transformation from failed retail space to community center required a rethinking of education space, education funding, and ultimately, the education experience for both K-12 students and the surrounding community. The result is a flex space elementary school, an academy-based high school, and much needed retail space for service-oriented businesses and community organizations such Cal Poly Pomona, HeadStart, a NASA/JPL Research Center and a local history museum.

The flex space enables the district to bus elementary students from overcrowded schools to a safe, secure learning environment. In fall 2001, 1,800 students attended elementary classes at Pueblo East, Pueblo North and Pueblo South. The Village Academy High School occupies a separate "compartment" of the same facility and supports more than 400 students. The eVillage has also become a transportation academy providing not only basic busing services but also combining vocational training, business development, and technology innovation in public transportation systems.

The Village at Indian Hill is not just about repurposing an existing structure. The district is experimenting with acceptable ways to introduce enterprise into the education process by creating a business rather than a marketing relationship with their partners. The school and retail companies at Village at Indian Hill work together in a unique, symbiotic partnership that offers students hands-on learning opportunities, while businesses benefit from skilled labor and reduced infrastructure expenses.

The district formed the non-profit Pomona Valley Educational Foundation to create an endowment for educational programs that support student learning. A private entity closely aligned with the district, the foundation manages all business relationships including commercial leases. They also pursue grants and equipment donations. Partnerships have included technology leaders like AT&T, Apple, HP/Compaq and others. The Foundation was also one of the first K-12 school systems to become a “hub” of internet activity and infrastructure development for the LA Basin.

The foundation has two primary revenue streams: leasing of commercial space within the mall complex and rental of the high-tech conference facilities. Retail companies lease space in the complex and may provide applied learning opportunities for students enrolled in the academy programs. In partnership with the nearby Sheraton Fairplex, the foundation also manages a high-tech conference facility.

PUSD is bringing money into the school system with creative leasing.
The School system provides conference facilities, high-tech equipment, and technical expertise. Students are trained in conference support areas and earn credits and cash by offering their services, skills and expertise to local businesses and even back to the district.

Funding for the purchase, design and architectural work came from Federal Qualified Zone Academy Bonds. Federal E-rate funds and California's Digital High School and Library grants has helped to bring technology to the school system. In addition to these one-time grants, the district receives funds for enrolled students based on the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) and the impoverished student population qualifies for state and federal categorical programs.
Partnerships with corporations, educational institutions and other non-profits further strengthen the community and provide resources. By opening the facility to adult education at night, the district splits the cost of equipment with higher education partners and brings a much-needed service to the community. The school has also attracted grants and partnership programs from companies such as: Apple, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Compaq, CompUSA, NASA/JPL, and many more.

What was once 55 acres of vacant, sub-standard commercial space is now a highly visible, quality, state-of-the-art business and education center. The project has invested more than $50 million in new development and operational funding with the hope of bringing stability and economic growth to the community of Pomona. New housing starts have sprung up all around this once abandoned neighborhood. School safety not only at the eVillage but elsewhere across the District are at all time lows. The fiber optic ring that connects the school system supports a digital surveillance system whose head end is at the eVillage and supported through a partnership with Pomona Public Safety. Just this past week the Pomona Unified School District released a commercial software suite for online essay scoring known as RxNetWriter. Pomona Unified and the community in Pomona California believes that they can define their own future. Whether it is software development, housing starts, commercial activities, the secret in Pomona is that education has become the engine of change and transformation.

Patrick Leirer is the kind of leader that Cleveland needs. To build on the strengths and accomplishments of the past 7 years, Cleveland needs new leadership that can align the challenges of the education environment to the broader goals of the community. Our community’s vision for School leadership should be viewed as part of the civic “A” team creating partnerships that make a difference.

Posted by lsg8 at August 7, 2005 05:16 PM and tagged Bytes 

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