Typically, this column would begin with bragging about Beachwood’s recently graduated senior class. But this year has been anything but typical, and our seniors aren’t slated to graduate until Aug. 9, delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite many obstacles, every senior earned their diploma and will be moving on to universities around the country, to serve in the military, or to begin jobs. Congratulations to the unheralded Class of 2020 – they deserve every accolade.
The start of an unprecedented school year nears and our district focus remains on student achievement, inter-cultural awareness and mental health. These focus areas all intersect under the overarching district goal of educational equity.
Beachwood students’ performance consistently places us among the top school districts in Northeast Ohio across many measures. Beachwood Middle School was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education this past year. Our high school’s already outstanding average ACT score increased this year and, in a few months, we will proudly boast a record number of students who earned National Merit Scholar status for 2020.
Hundreds of Beachwood students take advantage of the unique opportunities our district offers them – many explore the field of medicine in University Hospitals’ Beachwood Medical Academy and others, the field of engineering through the Design & Innovation Program partnership with Cleveland State University’s Washkewicz College of Engineering. Our college-level AP computer science courses enjoy strong enrollment and have earned national recognition for their female enrollment of 50% or greater.
Our district’s director of equity and community engagement, Kevin Houchins, was tremendously influential in his first year in this new position. His work ensured that equity and inclusion were considered in all district decision-making and that students’ and families’ voices were not just heard, they were solicited. In addition to spearheading implicit bias training with world-renowned researcher, and Beachwood graduate, Jennifer Eberhardt, Houchins gathered student, parent and staff equity and engagement teams at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
The district’s sustained effort to diversify our teacher and administrative ranks paid dividends this year. Despite very few open positions for next school year, our recruiting efforts resulted in the hiring of five teachers from groups underrepresented in K-12 education.We are fortunate that these experienced educators will make a difference in our students’ lives starting this August.
Beachwood schools regards student mental health as critical to student academic success. In addition to bolstering our district’s support for struggling students, we also made moves to proactively help build all students’ resilience and executive functioning skills. Last year, a social skills program was added to the grades kindergarten to second grade curriculum and will move into grades three to five this year. Staff trained to better understand the impact trauma has on our students and families.
Teachers piloted the use of community circles in classrooms across the district, a practice that builds connections and trust among students and between students and staff. Returning from the pandemic-forced school closure will be extremely difficult for many students and we are preparing to help them successfully return to the welcome routines and structure of school.
Beachwood’s 2020-21 school year will be uniquely challenging, but also uniquely rewarding for our students, staff and community. We are excited to get started.
Robert P. Hardis is superintendent of Beachwood City Schools.