by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, February 2019) At the Cleveland Municipal School District Board of Education meeting on January 22, 2019 at George Washington Carter School, Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon noted that January was School Board Recognition month and thanked the Board for their dedication and hard work. Monyka Price, the City of Cleveland Chief of Education and the liaison between the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, also praised the Board of Education for “keeping attention focused on the Cleveland Plan” and their “unselfish devotion of time and service.”
In his Chief Executive Officer’s Report, Eric Gordon talked about the launch of Say Yes to Education Cleveland, and how the district had committed to making the scholarship program and its social service component both sustainable and equitable. Gordon called the program a revitalization and economic development strategy for the City of Cleveland. He described some of the details of the program and fielded questions from Board of Education members about the program.
Gordon then talked extensively about a part of the Say Yes to Education program that was unique to Cleveland. He said Cleveland had committed that every student obtaining a scholarship through the program would receive a mentor through College Now. He said to become a mentor a person needs to have completed college and needs to undergo a background check. Gordon says he is encouraging every credentialed professional person he knows to become a mentor. He said mentoring, which he participates in, involves two email conversations per month. He said 500 additional mentors are expected to be needed for this year’s graduating class. Several Cleveland School Board members committed to becoming mentors. For details on how to become a mentor or to donate money to the scholarship program, Gordon urged the public to visit the Say Yes Cleveland website at: www.sayyescleveland.org.
Board Member Lisa Thomas asked CEO Gordon how much of his time did he expect to be occupied with the Say Yes to Education Program. Gordon said he has committed to serving on an Operating Committee which will meet every two weeks for the first two years of the program. He will also help to host four public quarterly meetings about the program.
Gordon also talked about new software that will help collect data on students that the district and participating charter schools have agreed to provide as part of the Say Yes to Education program.
Gordon responded to a question about how families of students would be informed about the program, talking about videos being relayed to parents to upload and fliers to be sent home. He also noted that Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke has asked the union members to have all hands-on-deck to help spread the word and inform families of the program.
Gordon noted that while the percentage of students graduating from high school in Cleveland has gone up, the number of students applying to go to college has declined. He suspected that is because students didn’t believe they could afford to go to college. He said the Plain Dealerquoted a student saying prior to Say Yes to Education, “I was afraid to hope I could go to college. Now I can hope.”
School Board President Anne Bingham said that during the Say Yes to Education kickoff ceremony at John Marshall High School she witnessed “adult people shedding tears.” She said, “This is indeed a game changer for us in Cleveland.”
The CEO’s report and board questions were followed by questions and statements from the public with CEO Gordon and some Board of Education members responding in part to some of the statements and questions from the public.
Jim Pelikan asked the Board of Education to consider that portfolio models such as the Cleveland Plan have failed to equitably serve all students. He asked the Board of Education to look at their schools and ask “Who are we serving? Are we missing anybody?”
Pelikan reminded the Board of Education about the now defunct Investment School Program that promised in 2012 that in five years all the District’s 23 Investments Schools (deemed the worst performing schools in the system at the time) would be passing schools. He noted this had not come to pass.
Pelikan said he believes the Board of Education is the only body in the city equipped to examine this issue as to which children are not being served and which classes of students are being left out. He said the Board of Education, by examining the disparities in the distribution of resources, has a chance to make change that will serve all of Cleveland’s children.
Elizabeth Coles said she was pleased to see the Say Yes to Education program underway. She said, back in the day, her children benefited from the Scholarship in Escrow Program, and she was disappointed when the district let it go.
Coles also spoke out against an agenda item that indicated giving the CEO a performance increase amounting to $26,000 over his previous year’s pay. Coles said some employees don’t make $26,000 a year. She cited the low graduation rate in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as a reason not to give CEO Gordon a raise.
Don Freeman said “Mr. Gordon, I am here tonight to make an ultra-urgent request to you which must be initiated by your administration and include Paul Hoover (Redesign Schools Network Leader).” Freeman went on to call on Eric Gordon and Paul Hoover to meet with the teaching staff of Redesign Schools that are former Investment Schools (i.e. Alfred Benesch, Anton Grdina, Case, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fullerton, Luis Muños Marin, Mound and Robert H. Jamison) to talk about their concerns about implementation of the education models in the Redesign schools. He called for a necessary adaption that would require principals at these schools to “collaborate democratically with faculty in schools to address what are serious problems relative to the proper implementation of the redesign process in the second semester of this school year.”
Freeman noted that the morale of the faculty at one of the Redesign schools, Sunbeam, was so bad that 90% of the faculty have signed a petition that you should have or will be receiving soon. Freeman stressed there was a “dire need” for principals to engage democratically with the faculty of these schools rather than in the very bureaucratic manor that resulted in the failure of the investments school program in these same schools.
Freeman asked CEO Gordon to make it a priority to join with Paul Hoover in meeting with the teaching staffs of these schools to learn of their concerns and to implement a democratic process of developing the Redesign Program.
CEO Gordon responded that he will talk with Paul Hoover about meeting with the teachers.
Gene Tracy began his remarks by reminding CEO Gordon that according to the Union Contract he was obligated to meet with the Sunbeam teachers that petitioned for a meeting with him.
Tracy asked CEO Gordon how the district would select the 15% of schools that would receive Say Yes to Education wraparound services first.
CEO Gordon responded to this question, outlining the process on how schools can apply to be a Service Delivery School. He said CMSD faculty members will be attending an Academic Achievement Plan (AAP) meeting on February 4th. At the meeting they will receive a sheet with information on what is required for a school to be a Service Delivery School. The faculty will vote via their AAP as to whether or not they would like to be a Service Delivery School, said Gordon. If they vote yes, it will be considered an application to become one of the 15% of schools that will receive wraparound services next school year, he said.
Tracy also talked about the atrocity going on at the United States border with Mexico where children are being held hostage by the United States government. He asked the Board of Education to “imagine someone stealing money from babies and children?”
Tracy said, “For 10 years you let Mayor Frank Jackson steel $1 million per year from Cleveland children and give it to the stadium and you said nothing. Let this be the year you say something.”
Responding to Tracy’s remarks, Board Member Dr. Lisa Thomas said she wanted to go on record as “opposing the caging of children and opposing the closing of the government.” Tracy responded, “What about the Mayor’s theft?” Dr. Thomas said, “One step at a time.”
Board Member Robert Heard said he will be going to Washington D.C. to discuss educational policy with Congressional Representatives and Senators and the Secretary of Education. Heard said he will have an opportunity along with school board members from around the country to tell the government officials about concerns and problems that seem to go unheard. He called it insane to talk about devoting $5.7 billion to building a wall when public education’s needs for funding are not being met. Heard criticized President Donald Trump for not talking about public education at all. Heard also said there are “forces in the State of Ohio that are trying to dismantle public education.”