Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon shares Say Yes to Education details

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, February 2019)          The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) is making a major effort to get the word out about the scholarships and social services that will be available to Cleveland students as a result of Cleveland becoming the fourth city in the nation to partner with the Say Yes to Education Foundation.

As part of that effort to get the word out about Say Yes Cleveland, CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon, CMSD Chief Communications Officer Roseann Canfora and CMSD Director of the CMSD News Bureau Thomas Ott met with staff of publications belonging to the Neighborhood and Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 22ndprior to the evening Board of Education meeting.

Armed with a handout about Say Yes Cleveland, CEO Gordon explained which high school students will be eligible to receive the scholarships, outlined an agreement with over 100 private colleges to participate in a higher education compact, and talked about the wraparound social services that will be having a greater presence in Cleveland schools as part of the Say Yes compact.

Gordon explained that the Say Yes Cleveland scholarships are available only to graduates of CMSD schools and partner charter schools who are residents living within the boundaries served by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Those graduates must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), said Gordon. The Say Yes Scholarship Fund is designed to pay for any tuition costs that are not covered by federal and state tuition aid for students whose family income is less than $75,000 per year. For students with family income higher than $75,000 per year, the scholarship fund will pay up to $5,000 per year for tuition costs not covered by state and federal tuition aid, said Gordon. Each year students are receiving a scholarship, they must complete a FAFSA application.

The other requirement Gordon mentioned is that students must be accepted to a qualifying post-secondary program and maintain a 2.0 average once in the program. According to the Say Yes to Education Scholarship FAQ — scholarships are provided “up to the value of tuition to all public universities, community colleges and Pell-eligible certificate programs in Ohio – as well as nearly 100 private colleges and universities in Ohio and across the nation.” The Say Yes Scholarships cannot be used for non-tuition expenses such as room and board and books, but Gordon says students can apply for other scholarships for these expenses.

In their senior year of high school, the Say Yes Scholarship FAQ sheet says students will be assisted by school counselors and College Now of Greater Cleveland staff in creating a Say Yes to Education account. Through that account they can indicate their school interests (a two year or four-year college or Pell-eligible certificate program). Once they have decided which school they are enrolling in, they then update their account so payment of tuition can proceed. This year’s high school seniors can log onto the scholarship portal at www.SayYesCleveland.orgbeginning on February 4, 2019. The scholarship portal will also offer lists of Ohio public four year and two-year and various certificate program postsecondary opportunities. In addition, it lists private colleges and universities participating in the Say Yes National Higher Education Compact, including 13 private schools in Ohio.

Gordon noted that the commitment of Say Yes Cleveland is to sustain the scholarship fund for the next 25 years. In order to assure the funds will be available for scholarships, the Cleveland community was asked to raise $120 million dollars within the first 5 years of the program and to have a substantial portion of that available prior to the program beginning. Gordon said the Cleveland community raised $90 million so far, more than was required by Say Yes to begin the program. He said he is sure Say Yes Cleveland will be able to raise the additional $35 million over the next five years.

According to the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship FAQ, the scholarships will be available for eight semesters of at least 12 credit hours per semester. Students are allowed, but not encouraged, to take a gap year after graduation from high school, however, they must enroll in a post-secondary program within a year of graduation from high school. Once they start their educational program, students have five years to complete the eight semesters of work.

Gordon says in addition to the Say Yes to Education monies available for funding tuition gap scholarships, a number of private colleges participating in the Say Yes to Education Program have offered full scholarships to Say Yes students to fill the gap between what federal and state grants pay and the tuition costs.

Gordon said current Cleveland residents who will graduate from a Cleveland Metropolitan School District school or affiliated charter school this year will be immediately eligible for a Say Yes Scholarship. According to the Say Yes to Education Scholarship FAQ that also applies to: “students in the graduating classes of 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, who meet the residency requirements as of January 18, 2019, – and are continuously enrolled in a Cleveland Metropolitan School District or eligible partnering charter high school through graduation.” Beginning in 2023, to be eligible for scholarships students must reside in the boundaries of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District throughout their four years of high school.

Gordon says this residency requirement is designed to be an economic development tool to help encourage middle income families to move back to Cleveland. According to the FAQ sheet, “The goals of the Say Yes Cleveland are to increase education levels of Cleveland residents; boost and retain population in the city of Cleveland; improve college access for middle- and low-income families in Cleveland; and spur economic growth and expansion in the region.”

While the Say Yes to Education Cleveland hopes to bring middle class families back to Cleveland, Gordon says the program has a component to help families that are already here. He said the plan is to eventually have a Family Support Specialist in every school. Cuyahoga County has agreed to use existing federal funds that it uses to serve district students to pay for the Family Support Specialists at every school, said Gordon.

In addition, CEO Gordon said the school district is looking to build on its partnership with MetroHealth and to add partnerships with other health care and mental health care service providers to offer more services to children and families.

Partnership with legal service providers, such as Legal Aid, will allow families receiving eviction notices to take them to school to seek advice on how to protect their rights, said Gordon. He noted the City of Cleveland announced a plan to combat lead poisoning that morning. He said renters concerned about their rights to live in a lead safe home could bring their concerns to an attorney at school.

Additional social services that are to be available in schools through the Say Yes to Education Model include tutoring, after school programs and summer school.

Gordon said that the Say Yes to Education model requires that $15 million be raised to go toward these wraparound services at all CMSD schools within six years.  Gordon says CMSD plans to have the wraparound services in place within four years. The plan is to have 15% of the schools providing social services beginning next fall. Another twenty five percent of the schools in the following school year and 30% more in each of the next two school years.

Several parts of the program will be unique to Cleveland. College Now of Greater Cleveland, which has many years of experience helping Cleveland students get into college, will partner with Say Yes to Education Cleveland to administer the scholarship program and an accompanying mentoring program. Gordon says that each graduate receiving a scholarship will be matched with an adult mentor that will stay in touch with them via email reminders throughout their college education. Gordon says the mentor program is already underway in Cleveland will need to recruit additional adult college graduates to share their experiences with the college bound Cleveland students.

The Say Yes to Education Cleveland program, said Gordon, will be administered by Diane Downing, a veteran of both the George Voinovich and Michael White administrations in Cleveland and a key figure in efforts to build the Cleveland Browns stadium as well as bringing the Republican Convention to Cleveland.

Responding to questions about the expected number of graduates that will be eligible for this program, Gordon said that there are about 2,000 high school seniors graduating each year. Currently, about 75% of the CMSD high school students graduate within four years and about 80% graduate within five years, he said.

As far as monitoring the success of the program, CEO Gordon says that a national clearing house exists that helps track how students from each school system do in college. Gordon noted that currently there is no similar tracking available for students that may choose a non-college post-secondary programs that qualify for Say Yes Scholarships.

While he couldn’t provide, off the top of his head, the current success rate for Cleveland students in college, he said the Say Yes to Education Program in Buffalo has shown persistent increases in the number of 2 year and 4-year college graduates from Buffalo students. Gordon said higher salaries for college graduates should result in a return of $8.49 for every dollar spent on Say Yes to Education.

As for those students that do not graduate from high school, Gordon was asked “What percentage of those students were Special Needs students?”  He was also asked if he thought the disproportionally large number of Special Needs students in the Cleveland schools could be attributed in part to lead poisoning.

While he did not have an answer as to how many of the students that did not graduate were Special Needs students, Gordon promised to have his staff research the answer for the Plain Press.

CEO Gordon said while there is no definitive study of students to determine if their lead poisoning lead to their Special Needs diagnosis, he said that an outside analysis of Cleveland’s Special Needs students had determined that “we do not have an over identification of minority students.” However, he said that Cleveland had an unusually high number of Special Needs students diagnosed with “emotional disability.”  While he has no proof that lead poisoning caused the large population with “emotional disability”, Gordon said that lead poisoning can result in loss of impulse control and other behavioral issues so you could surmise that it may be a factor.

Gordon says CMSD has several programs in place to help students with social emotional learning difficulties. However, he said lead poisoning is easier to deal with at earlier ages, he noted a program in Rochester, New York that is screening and intervening with children at an early age. Gordon hopes reducing lead poisoning in Cleveland will help reduce the high cost of intervention.

CEO Gordon said to the extent that Family Intervention Specialists brought on through Say Yes to Education can help families avoid crisis that lead to children going into foster care, the district can save money on expensive transportation for foster care kids. He said often these students are placed in the suburbs and the district is required to provide transportation for students to and from their suburban foster homes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: