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U.S. official calls CMSD school a model for the country


A White House official charged with improving education for Hispanic students toured a CMSD school Friday to view practices that she said could be replicated across the country.

Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, visited Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy, a K-12 school that helps students from other nations and Puerto Rico learn a new language and customs.

The Newcomers Academy, started in 2010, was home last school year to 425 students, many of them refugees, who hailed from 20 different countries and spoke 13 different languages. About 80 children from bilingual CMSD schools are enrolled there in a summer school for students who are learning English as a second language.

Ceja was impressed that Thomas Jefferson also works with parents, offering GED and citizenship classes. She said that approach could benefit other parts of the country with growing Hispanic populations.

“The cultural component is so very integrated into the learning component,” she said. “It’s a model we have to help elevate in other communities.”

The U.S. Hispanic population now accounts for more than 20 percent of students in K-12 education. In Cleveland, the figure stays steady at about 7 percent. The District classifies eight elementary schools and two high schools as bilingual.
Ceja spoke privately with Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon and other administrators who used Thomas Jefferson for a weekly meeting. The CEO provided a history of the Newcomers Academy and outlined District programs designed for Hispanic students.

Later, Ceja participated in a conference call with foundations. They discussed coordinating strategy in “emerging communities.”

She was in Cleveland to speak at the Fiesta of Hope scholarship luncheon sponsored by Esperanza, a Hispanic education advocacy group. “Esperanza” is Spanish for “hope.”

Educating the Hispanic population is key to maximizing its role in the economy, Ceja said.

Ceja said her speech to the crowd at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel would celebrate the accomplishments of scholarship recipients while stressing the need to support the students on the journey that awaits them. She said that nationwide, only 15 percent of Hispanic college students complete their studies.

“A 15 percent completion rate is not acceptable,” she said. “We have to do better as a country.”