UPDATE: After Tuesday morning's student protest and meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s CEO Eric Gordon, Gordon proposed a new plan Wednesday evening that will keep the Whitney Young Gifted and Talented Academy intact.
The new plan involves attaching a 14-classroom modular to the new K-8 building that is currently under construction next to Whitney Young. It will house all Whitney Young students after it is complete in January.
The K-8 building will be home to students from Charles Eliot, who are moving after their building was sold to a charter school.
In the interim, Whitney Young students will use the existing Whitney Young building and Charles Eliot students will move into that building's annex.
CMSD officials said this gives the students and community the chance to rally, help with recruiting, and show that the gifted and talented standalone school is sustainable.
Gordon will present the plan to the school board at their May 29 meeting. It is expected to be approved and will cost roughly $1.5 million.
Gordon applauded the students' passion and respectful protest, saying it was truly democracy in action.
More than 50 students and alumni from Whitney Young Leadership Academy for the Gifted and Talented gathered at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s administrative offices Tuesday morning, protesting a merger that will move them from their school.
District officials hatched a plan in 2015 to dismantle Whitney Young, citing declining enrollment numbers that made it impossible to keep it going as a standalone school. The school, located on Harvard Avenue, is one of the highest-performing in the city, with a 100 percent graduation rate.
Students chanted “Save Whitney Young” outside the Board of Education building downtown. Soon after they were called in for a meeting with CMSD’s CEO Eric Gordon.
“This is what democracy looks like done well. It was not disrespectful, it was truly young people being heard in a respectful way, which causes the ability for us to listen and dialogue,” Gordon said.
The initial plan is to merge Whitney Young middle schoolers with students from Charles Eliot into a new K-8 school that is near completion. The new building is next to the original Whitney Young building. It will have gifted services, but will not be a gifted-only school.
High schoolers would move to the John F. Kennedy campus down the street. Gordon said they would get their own separate floor and act as a separate school. But Whitney Young students are apprehensive about being in the same building as the students at JFK, saying they won’t feel safe.
“We’ve had a history of violence with the school,” said senior Darell Cannon.
“CMSD has problems keeping the students in JFK safe from each other and they already don’t like the students at Whitney Young, so once they get there, there’s going to be more and more issues, which calls for more security and more police,” said 2013 Whitney Young graduate Nicholas Holmes.
Gordon said he applauded the student’s standing up for themselves and hopes they can create a better plan.
“We agreed that we don’t have a solution today, but I offered — and the kids accepted — to keep the conversation open, so I’m actually very proud that students are using a civil discourse movement in the exact right way to make sure their voice is heard,” Gordon said.
A community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Whitney Young to brainstorm.