For a hearty group of East Side Cincinnati parents, sending their children to a brand new neighborhood school is a leap of faith they are all too happy to take.

"What gives us confidence is the support we've seen in the parent involvement," says Sean Barrett.

The Hyde Park father of three children looks forward to walking son Ian to kindergarten at the reconstituted Hyde Park School, set to open this fall with a kindergarten, first grade and maybe even a preschool.

Barrett is one of a core group of parents who decided in spring 2010 to make a third attempt at convincing Cincinnati Public Schools to reopen the historic building at Edwards and Observatory as a neighborhood school.

Parents took ownership and did their due diligence. They reached out to peers, attended school board meetings and navigated school district politics.

And they never gave up "” even when it was fair to do so.

"It's this exact process that helps retain and attract the strong middle class the city has to have if it will be successful," says P.G. Sittenfeld, Cincinnati City Councilman and assistant director of the Community Learning Center Institute, which works in Greater Cincinnati to develop all schools as community learning centers.

Doing the Work

The Parents for Hyde Park School story could be a guidebook for any group looking to achieve goals in a city.

And it practically ensures positive outcomes for the school itself.

"When families of all backgrounds are engaged in their children's learning, their children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and pursue higher education," according to the study The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement.

What made this attempt at reopening the old Hyde Park school successful?

Parents presented proof that there is demand from Hyde Park, Oakley and East Walnut Hills residents for the school.

After going door-to-door, they delivered nearly 500 signed "intent to enroll" forms from residents with children.

They crunched the numbers.

A neighborhood school for the East Side would save about $900,000 in direct voucher costs, plus transportation for students attending dozens of other schools, they reckoned.

They built community support with a yard sign campaign that helped raise awareness of their cause and spread the word to businesses and other community stakeholders.

They offered a solution for the overcrowding problem at nearby high-achieving Kilgour School, which stood to lose families to the suburbs or other schools if it could no longer accommodate students within its boundaries.

Good Timing

And they presented themselves as powerful assets for a school district struggling to regain market share and grow its student population.

"This is an opportunity to start growing the district again, as well as respond to what the city has been working so hard on with attracting young professionals and bringing people back from the suburbs," says Cincinnati School Board President Eve Bolton.

In many ways, Parents for Hyde Park School also benefited from good timing.

The group's effort coincided with the school system's push to be "a district of choice," says Superintendent Mary Ronan. "One of the things I always hear is parents want more choices and opportunities for their children."

At a time when charter schools and voucher programs enable parents to move their children out of low performing schools, it's paramount for school districts to find ways to combat the exodus.

Cincinnati Public also will use the Hyde Park School to house its Gifted Academy, for students in grades three to six.

The school board and district in December 2011 and January 2012 agreed to keep Taft Elementary open, after a big push from that community. That made saying "n' to Hyde Park a bit more difficult, Bolton says.

And here was a group of young professionals with families that wanted "a bit of a suburban education within the environment and diversity of a city environment," Bolton says.

"That was intriguing, but it did take some time for the district to believe that there could be such a change of behavior."

Perseverance Pays

Persistence is the key ingredient that made the effort work, say parents like Barrett, Tom and Marissa Rowe, Amy Kattman and Kiersten Anderson.

These parents are new to grassroots campaigns, but are willing to do the work to get what they want. They are professionals and stay-at-home parents who remember walking to school themselves and want those same enriching neighborhood experiences for their own children.

"We knew we could only change CPS' mind if we showed them there would be sufficient demand to support the school," says Tom Rowe, whose children are ages 5 and 2. "Once we had this huge stack of potential children that wanted to go there, it changed the conversation a lot."

It's About Community

The numbers gave Parents for Hyde Park School the credibility they needed.

What inspired parents to keep pursuing their dream was the desire to remain in the East Side communities.

"We saw our friends leaving for the suburbs because there was not a viable public school option," says Kattman, who is mom to a 3-and-a-half year old and a 2-year-old. "We wanted to prevent that for ourselves and the everyone else."

Hyde Park, Oakley and East Walnut Hills form one of Cincinnati's most popular areas. Rowe says he and others want to preserve the communities for the future.

"It's nice enough that it still can attract people even though lots of those residents can go to private schools," Rowe says. "Whoever lives in this area is sacrificing a bit to live here. We should offer more."

The Hyde Park community has long worked to preserve the 1902 school building.

In the 1990s, the district planned to replace the tile roof with composite shingles but the school's Parent/Teacher Association raised $75,000 to restore and preserve the original roof.

Businesses like Graeter's on Hyde Park Square are looking forward to increased foot traffic come fall. "A lot of the kids will stop in and have an ice cream or a donut," says manager Jeff Anderson. Parents, too. Adds parent Kiersten Anderson, "It strengthens the community."

And this is a large part of the push for a neighborhood school, Rowe says.

"Sometimes you don't take a breath and get to know your neighbors," Rowe says. "This effort has been a wonderful breath of fresh air for me."

Anderson didn't get involved until Marissa Rowe told her about the effort as they were picking up their preschoolers from Hyde Park Methodist.

She quickly jumped into the fray. The opportunity to have her children, ages 2 and 5, go to a neighborhood school held strong appeal.

"We just kept plugging along and we were all shocked when we found out it was happening sooner than the district had planned," Anderson says.

In the days leading up to summer recess, there has been a whirlwind of activity at the school "” open house events as well as renovation and remodeling work.

Parents for Hyde Park School already have a school logo and are selling magnets. They give tours to other interested parents and keep spreading the word to encourage enrollment.

This Fall

When school reopens in August 2012, the new Hyde Park School will house kindergarten, first grade and maybe preschool. A new grade will be added each year.

"This is such an amazing building and it is wonderful that it will continue to be used for a school," says Barrett, who works in marketing at Procter & Gamble Co.

"My hope is that it can serve as a source of pride for the community and a way to connect the community, particularly by keeping and attracting families with young children." - 



Turrets & Tile

The Hyde Park School building, dedicated in 1902, was designed by famous Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford.

Key features:

"¢ Twin turrets

"¢ Magnificent gabled red tile roof

"¢ Two-story brick addition with a gym was added in 1927

"¢ Just blocks from Hyde Park Square

The elementary school closed in 2005 because of low enrollment and the building has been used to house students from other schools while their buildings were being rebuilt or remodeled. Renovations are under way, including electrical and heating and cooling upgrades. Bonds and grants for energy efficiency upgrades are making the work feasible for the school district.



Parent Involvement Pays Off

"¢ 86 percent of the general public believes that support from parents is the most important way to improve school.

"¢ The more parents participate in schooling at every level "” advocacy, decision-making, fundraisers, boosters, and volunteers "” the better student achievement.

Decades of research show that when parents are involved students have:

"¢ Higher grades and test scores

"¢ Better attendance

"¢ Higher graduation rates

"¢ Increased motivation

"¢ Fewer suspensions

"¢ Decreased use of drugs and alcohol

Sources: ParentInvolvementMatters.org and PTOtoday.com


 
Great Neighborhoods Need Great Schools
To have a great neighborhood, a community needs an academically solid public school.

That's been the thinking for years behind efforts to reopen the Hyde Park School. Just ask community council members, business owners or parents.

"We are losing young families," says Ann Gerwin, Hyde Park Neighborhood Council member and a participant in previous and current efforts to reopen the school.

"It's healthier to have young families moving in," says Gerwin, also an attorney at Strauss & Troy. "And it's important for the neighborhood to remain vital and vibrant."

The core group of parents most active in Parents for Hyde Park School were awarded the Persons of the Year Award in May by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council for their success in working with Cincinnati Public Schools to reopen the Hyde Park building as a neighborhood school.

The City of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and many others have long recognized the importance of attracting young professionals to the region. But those efforts often target the single population.

What happens when those residents get married and have a family?

Often, they move to the suburbs for the schools.

"Keeping people in the city is our No. 1 job as council members and as school board members," says Cincinnati Councilman Laure Quinlivan, whose Strategic Growth Committee focuses on education.

"I think it is excellent that the school board responded to the parental demand," says City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. The Hyde Park parents turned the tide, he says. "Here you have a group of parents who do have a choice and can send their children to St. Mary or Seven Hills and they are saying "¢we know this can be good enough for us.'"

In spring 2010 Sittenfeld, in his role as assistant director of the Community Learning Center Institute and at the direction of CPS, met individually or in small groups with about 50 people to gauge interest in reopening the school.

But then CPS took a step back. Parents could have let their dream go, but many involved say at that point they were too invested to give up.

Peter Draugelis, a partner at Dinsmore & Shohl and president of the Oakley Community Council, represented Oakley in the effort.

"The biggest benefit is keeping young families in Cincinnati who then go and frequent businesses and get engaged in their neighborhood and in community events," Draugelis says.

Reopening the school with a neighborhood and magnet component, he says, will ensure a dynamic and diverse student population.

Draugelis, who has a newborn son, says being part of the effort was something special, even though his home is not within the Hyde Park School boundaries.

As for Councilman Quinlivan? She plans to use her council committee as a forum for spreading the good news about efforts like this one.