I interviewed Dr. Bruce about the effort to have this new school up and running in Lakewood or Cleveland’s near west side in August of 2018. After retiring from years as the superintendent of traditional public schools, he was offered the chance to lead Albert Einstein Academy and insisted that he would do so only if he could do it his way. After the success of the first two campuses, Dr. Bruce saw a clear lack of resources for LGBTQ students in the Cleveland area and went to his board for approval. Since then, he’s been working on getting approval from the state, planning, and looking for an appropriate space. According to his plans, he is looking to make sure that this school is affirming of LGBTQ youth and families down to the very foundation of the building.
Dr. Bruce described the challenges of finding an appropriate space for a school for youth who need a different educational experience. He is looking for a space that takes some of the pressure off right away, whether it be a store front, a recreational facility, a warehouse space, etc. He doesn’t want to move into an old school building. It is his commitment to make sure the youth know that this will be a safe place for them to be who they are and to learn.
“A traditional school building isn’t going to do it for us because this school is for kids who haven’t had good experiences in school. We need anything but a school for this building. It’s got to look different AND feel different for these kids to be successful.”
And he is doing more than just looking at non-traditional building spaces. The team is currently:
- Recruiting LGBTQ+ representation to be part of the school design team to contribute to the planning of the school and its curriculum.
- Reaching out to LGBTQ-serving organizations all over the region (including The Center) to help advise him on the project and to build them into the schools programming for in-school and after-school offerings.
- Preparing comprehensive wrap around services that will cater to the specific needs of the youth who attend, including LGBTQ competent mental health resources, physical health resources, and social supports.
- Touring and reviewing LGBTQ-affirming campuses in other parts of the state and country, including Columbus and Philadelphia.
- Intentionally hiring educators and staff who have backgrounds in counseling, social work, special education, and mental health who can connect with students on issues of education, identity, and other needs.
- Creating restroom options will include gender neutral restrooms and gendered restrooms with trans-friendly “Peace while you pee” policies that allow students and staff to use the restroom with which they identify.
- Creating a “nearly-nonexistent” dress code will be largely undefined to allow youth to express themselves as they see fit.
- Sampling existing curricula that push social justice topics and teach social justice history, while keeping the option open to develop their own if they cannot find resources that adequately represent the schools mission.
- Searching for sex education resources that address the unique needs and circumstances of LGBTQ kids.
- Working on agreements with The Center to provide SafeZone training for teachers and auxiliary staff at this campus and all of their other campuses.
- Putting the words “LGBT-Affirming” explicitly into the name of the school.