In the fall of 2015, The George Gund Foundation commissioned award-winning photographer Lisa Kessler to visit 11 Cleveland district and charter schools to document implementation of the Cleveland Plan, whose goals are to ensure every child in Cleveland attends a high-quality school and every neighborhood has a multitude of great schools from which families can choose. Kessler’s photos show schools that are full of energy and joy, collaboration and critical thinking, inspiration and creativity. Her images speak to transformation, progress, and growth. See this evolution through Kessler’s lens as she pictures these changing schools and changing minds. ×


The photography collection will be on exhibit at the Cleveland Public Main Library in downtown Cleveland from September 2 through October 28. A smaller traveling exhibit will be on display at several library branches around the city. We are grateful for the Cleveland Public Library’s partnership and support of the Cleveland Plan. Please visit these exhibits, highlighted on the map below:
West Side
Traveling Display
August 25–September 19
Carnegie West
1900 Fulton Road
Cleveland, OH 44113
September 19–October 7
West Park
3805 West 157th Street
Cleveland, OH 44111
October 7–27
South Brooklyn
4303 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
Main Library
Photo Exhibit
September 2–October 28
Main Library
Louis Stokes Wing
Lower Lobby
525 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
East Side
Traveling Display
August 25–September 13
17109 Lake Shore Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44110
September 13–27
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1962 Stokes Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106
September 27–October 12
11900 St. Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44108
October 12–27
3463 East 93rd Street
Cleveland, OH 44104


In 1972, a time of transformation on many fronts, I was a fourth grader at a New York public school that had recently ended the requirement that girls wear dresses or skirts. I remember well the hot pants with a red satin heart, and suede-fringed go-go boots that I wore. I was ten years old.

One day, my class received an assignment to write a poem. I had no idea how, and I was panicked. But I came up with a solution: copy the poem printed on my favorite pillowcase.

My teacher spoke with me after class. “I’d like you to write your own poem Lisa. In your own words.”

I was mortified at being caught. But Mrs. Manila was kind to me, and did not humiliate me in front of the class.

Upon my first visit to a public school in Cleveland, I was reminded of that experience, and transported back to one of the best parts of being a kid in school: being with adults who respect you. Adults who know that kids are capable and discerning.

I felt at ease in the Cleveland schools I visited and came to realize that was because students, staff, teachers and principals were all comfortable in their schools. They own the place.

At one elementary school, I saw a boy eating a snack in a common area. Just then the principal walked by, addressed him by name, and matter-of-factly told him to put the food back into his backpack: “You know the rules.” He also matter-of-factly put his snack away. Her authority wasn’t questioned, but he also wasn’t shamed.

Everywhere I went I saw students working in small groups, reading books, analyzing soil samples, conferring on a new choreography or working with a 3D printer. Teachers in art classes and honors physics classes alike sat down next to students to see the problem from their students’ perspective.

Some children’s schedules included one-on-one instruction, or participation in a psychologist led conversation about how to read social cues, or time to take a break and walk down the hall with a dean of students and school culture, who literally walks the hallways all day checking in with the middle schoolers. He, like most of the teachers and staff I met, is the oil that makes the engine run smoothly: students trust and feel safe with him. It struck me that there seemed to be no strangers in the schools. Everyone belongs.

What I found in the district and charter schools in Cleveland are extraordinary staff who recognize young people’s hunger to learn and to belong. Schools that empower those adults to listen to students. In one instance, a high school social studies teacher sensed something amiss in his class. It was soon after an act of violence in the city and the students were rattled. The teacher threw out his lesson plan and invited his students to reflect on what it means to feel safe. They wrote and then spoke eloquently, movingly, about the fears they live with—on behalf of themselves and their family members; how they cope in a world fraught with aggression, and their ambitions to make the world a better place. I am inspired that these young people will be in charge one day.

Being in these schools in Cleveland made me love school again, a place where ideas and personalities fly around, and where it’s okay to be ourselves.

Lisa Kessler, June 2016

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Cleveland Plan
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