Filed Under Education

Observation Elementary School

"On-the-job" Teacher Training

The responsibility for training and licensing teachers evolved from a school district function a century ago to the current university model. Cleveland's Observation School provides a glimpse of this evolution.

The former four-story orange brick Cleveland School of the Arts building on Stearns Road in University Circle was highlighted by three ornate terra cotta entrances. It was built as Observation Elementary School in 1910. According to the Cleveland Restoration Society, this makes it one of the oldest school buildings in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

On November 20, 1907, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Board of Education purchased about 88,000 square feet of land between East 107th Street and Marlborough (now Stearns) Road to accommodate both John Hay High School and the new normal school. While John Hay awaited another 20 years of planning and debate, the Normal school was built by 1910, supplying facilities and teachers to the growing public school district.

During the earlier days of public schooling, the school districts were responsible for training teachers and normal schools were utilized for this purpose. Specifically, teacher-education efforts in Greater Cleveland resulted from the Common School Law of 1836. There was a model school, forerunner of laboratory schools, for children under 14, where prospective teachers of both sexes could gain some practical experience. Cleveland school superintendent Andrew J. Rickoff established the Cleveland City Normal School in 1872, with the first school opening on Eagle Street in 1874. Here, teachers-to-be practiced in actual [normal] school settings - while being supervised by 'critic teachers' - to develop their teaching skills. The goal was for these teacher-students to learn enough to eventually be hired to teach in the Cleveland schools.

In 1914, the state of Ohio passed legislation which governed the certification of teachers and imposed additional standards regarding their preparation. Later, a department of education was established in Mather College, where both Mather and Adelbert students could take professional education courses for certification. In 1928, the university's School of Education was managed by both the Board of Education and the university. In 1945, courses for practicing teachers were transferred to Cleveland College where professional education courses required for state certification were taken. During this transitional period of teacher education, the normal school became "Observation Elementary School". The name came from the fact that the school still provided access to a real, observable school setting to help complement teacher training at nearby Western Reserve University.

In 1981, the building again underwent a role transition. The Cleveland Public Schools were working to comply with several components of a complex federal court order to desegregate its schools. One of the strategies employed by the district was the creation of thematic and magnet schools featuring unique and focused coursework for students. The Cleveland School of the Arts was identified and located at the Observation School facility. The school's proximity to all the cultural resources of University Circle made the site and ideal choice. The Arts school prospered at the Stearns Road location until 2009 when it was moved to a temporary school building awaiting its redevelopment on stearns Road. A presentation at the Cleveland Planning Commission in November 2011 showed the design of the new Cleveland School of the Arts building, which includes an intention to salvage the historic school's terra cotta for use on the interior of the new building. Terra cotta removal started in late December 2011. Demolition was completed in 2012.


Cleveland Normal School.
Cleveland Normal School. A postcard rendition of Cleveland Normal School illustrates its new home in 1910. The school was moved from its Eagle Street location to the University Circle neighborhood in order to accommodate the increased demand for training teachers. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Observation Elementary School
Observation Elementary School Cleveland Normal School was built in 1910 to accommodate the school district's teacher training academy. As the coordination of teacher training moved from the public school districts to colleges and universities, the school changed name to Observation Elementary School. It also became a place that was specifically designed to train teacher students at nearby Western Reserve University. Creator: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Observation Elementary School
Observation Elementary School Two parts of the building are visible in this photograph from Stearns Road. The entire property between East 107th Street and Stearns Road connects John Hay High School, the recreation center, and the Observation School; turning it into one of the district's larger campuses. Creator: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Cleveland School of the Arts
Cleveland School of the Arts From 1981 until 2010, the 100 year old school facility housed the Cleveland School of the Arts. Its demolition in 2012 clears the way for a new facility for the school. The new building is set to be completed in 2014. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities


2106 Stearns Rd, Cleveland OH | Demolished


Jim Lanese, “Observation Elementary School,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 16, 2024,