School canceled for safety reasons on day of solar eclipse

by Melissa Martin

Jan. 17 school board meeting

Superintendent Jeffrey Harrison has announced a change to the school calendar in light of the upcoming solar eclipse which will take place on Monday, April 8.

Because the Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District is in the eclipse’s path of totality, Harrison said the district has elected to cancel classes for students that day. He said local safety forces have encouraged the district to cancel classes in light of the fact that the eclipse will near the totality phase around 3 p.m., just as Brecksville-Broadview Heights Elementary School students would normally be released.

The timing, Harrison said, poses safety concerns.

Instead, Harrison said, teachers will have a professional development day and will be released shortly after the lunch hour so they, too, will be able to view the eclipse.

Instead, the city of Brecksville is hosting solar eclipse festivities at the Blossom Hill property from 1-4 p.m. that day and the school district encourages families to attend. The city will provide eclipse viewing glasses to the public and will have a variety of food trucks and other activities for the community to partake in throughout the afternoon.

Additionally, Harrison pointed out, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park also plans to offer camping during the days before and the day of the eclipse, which is a first for the park.

Strategic plan

Harrison introduced new school board member to the district’s ongoing development of a new district-wide three-year strategic plan, a process that got underway last fall.

“This is our community’s school district and I just get the privilege of helping lead in the direction our communities want,” he said. “I have heard since day one that there is a certain expectation of what the BBH schools should be offering our students, and those opinions go across the board.”

Harrison said the plan will help guide not only students and teachers, but it will also facilitate the administration and the school board in allocating resources and planning for the future.

“We have to plan our work and then work our plan,” her said, noting that the district plans to be nimble and reactive to the community and society in general.

A key part of the process, Harrison explained, is the involvement of the community – students, staff, parents and even residents without students who have no stake in the district aside from the taxes they pay.

“I want to be validated in the direction we’re going so that we can be confident that we’re leading the district in the direction the community wants us to go,” he said. “There will be disagreements along the way and that’s where our job as educators is to step in and make the decisions in the best interest of our students and prepare them for jobs that aren’t even created yet.”

The district invited the community to attend a community engagement session Feb. 13 and is considering a second session on Feb. 27 in the middle school auditorium depending on attendance during the first meeting.

The staff, he said, met for an engagement session of their own on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30.

The district has contracted with the Seymour Group, a firm that specializes in polling and data collection, to generate the data it needs to generate the strategic plan. The cost of the project, Harrison said, is less than $20,000.

The district plans to generate the data from a minimum of 400 surveys to gauge what the public believes are the schools’ strengths and weaknesses and where the district has room for improvement.

Harrison said a secondary survey will be available on the district’s website for those who elect not to participate in the community engagement session.

“We will be taking into consideration all feedback,” he said. “None of it will be turned away.”

In March, Harrison said the administration will begin creating the district’s mission statement and will then be working through the summer to create goals. A draft of the strategic plan will be submitted to the school board in September.

In October, Harrison said he will deliver a state-of-the-schools address in October, which will become an annual community tradition.

“The timing of that works out with the timing of the release of our data from the Ohio Department of Education (in the form of annual school report cards,” he said. “When we are finished with the process, our district should have a clear vision and mission of our values and goals.”

Moving forward, Harrison said the district is also planning to establish a key communicators group that will help the district disseminate information to the community and will also be charged with receiving feedback from the community and bringing it back to the school board and the administration. He said the idea is for the group to meet with the superintendent on a quarterly basis, if not more frequently.

“For the lack of a better word, they kind of get the scoop and get to see behind the curtain a little bit,” he said. “[These individuals] will help us make determinations on how we communicate, when we communicate and who we communicate to, and it will be ongoing.”

An outline of the strategic planning process is available online on the district’s website for the public to view. It outlines the players, their roles and what the community can expect along the way, Harrison said.

“I want to stress that we’re not doing strategic planning to put more on our teachers’ plates,” he said. “What we want is honesty and open feedback. We want to create spaces where staff can provide feedback and not have to fear retaliation or negative consequences for speaking their minds. We want to have a shared vision. … This plan is going to be our north star and will guide everything we do as a district.” ∞