CLEVELAND -- Two boarded-up Cleveland Public Schools have reopened as high expectation charter schools.
Breakthrough Schools, working with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, has transformed the former Arthur Roth and Woodland Hills schools into part of its network of public charter schools.
"We are just extremely excited to go into a neighborhood, literally and figuratively take the boards off of closed schools and reopen it as a high performing school for kindergarten through 8th, and be a rock in this community," said Chris O'Brien, Head of School at E-Prep Woodland Hills.
He says the new schools will replicate the successful model of the Breakthrough Schools, which has been developed over more than ten years.
"It's going to look and feel different," hesaid."There's just a hum about the building.The scholars are constantly working, the teachers are engaging, lively. And when you witness a classroom where one hundred percentof the scholars are working, you see the discipline, you see the structure."
More than 400 families from Cleveland and from suburbs as far as North Olmsted, Beachwood, and Parma have enrolled their children in the new charter schools for the 2012-2013 year.
"I can't wait until tomorrow," beamed Zinzi Gainer, who just signed up her sixth grade son Immanuel."I can't wait to drop him off at school, and I can't wait to hear about his day when it's over."
Sith grader Kenny Richey, who entered E-Prep Woodland Hills last week, was already enthusiastic about his classwork, done under rigorous structure and discipline.
"I'm interested in math," he said softly, standing in front of newly painted lockers andhallways. "It's my favorite subject because I've always been good at math."
"It's building a culture of high expectations, no excuses, and that's true across our network," explains Lyman Millard, development director with the Breakthrough Schools.
"This is something that Mayor Jackson is hoping to do with the Cleveland Plan," he continued,"taking the absolute best schools we have in Cleveland -- and there are a bunch of them -- and making sure that more families have the opportunity to give their children a great, free public education."
The transformation was supported with private and foundation donations, based on Breakthrough's track record of success so far.
With 98 percent minority students in its schools, and nearly 80 percent of them living at or below the poverty line, the challenges are great.
"We start our school year with the high expectations," says Alicia Sadonick, principal of the new Citizens Academy East, marking its first day on Wednesday. "So when the kids enter the building we start all of our rules and our procedures and expectations the minute they walk through the door."
The method has led to Breakthrough students scoring higher on every state exam than city and state averages, including suburban school districts.
"It's routines and it's modeling," Saddonick told WKYC,"and it's going over it again and again and again because some of these children have never gone to pre-school. They've never sat in a classroom, they've never sat at a desk. They don't know how to hold a pencil, some of them."
She said intense teacher preparation and early engagement from parents of every student enrolled is key.
"We actually do home visits. All of our teachers contact the families that are in their homerooms, and we have pairs of teachers that go out to the homes of our parents and talk about the expectations of our school and that teacher's classroom."
The ultimate goal of every Breakthrough School, where every classroom is named for acollege or unveristy,is very high, but within realistic reach, says O'Brien.
"One hundred percent of our scholars will graduate from the college of their choice," he flatly stated. "And there really isn't any other measure of success than that. How many get into college and how many get out of college."
Another four hundred youngsters began to climb thatladder of high expectations on Wednesday.