Teachers Union seeks seat at table in selecting for Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chief Executive Officer

by Chuck Hoven

   At the January 24th Board of Education meeting, hundreds of members of the Cleveland Teachers Union packed into the auditorium at John Hay High School in support of their union leadership’s call for more input in the process of selecting a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the school district.

   During the public comment period of the Board of Education meeting, Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) President Shari Obrenski and CTU First Vice President Tracy Radish both implored the Board of Education members to take action to make sure that going forward the CTU would have a seat at the table in helping the Board of Education make a recommendation to Mayor Justin Bibb as to a preferred candidate to be the next Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD).

   Obrenski said that when the executive board of the CTU met with the search firm, The Alma Group, they felt that the “firm lacked a clear understanding of how the Cleveland Plan came to be, as well as how the coalitions that have been formed under CEO Eric Gordon work.”

   Obrenski noted the struggle that occurred to get to the point where we are today. She said, “Over the past decade plus we have moved from a space where there were many individual silos and little transparency to a place where the many partners of the Cleveland Plan sit down together to collaborate, and problem solve.”

   Speaking of the process of selecting a new CEO for the school district, Obrenski said, “It makes sense that we be at the table and an important contributor to the work because our members are the ones that are working with each and every student in every imaginable setting every day.”

   After outlining the many ways that members of CTU have worked with the administration and the board in implementing policies, programs, and protocols, Obrenski expressed her disappointment in the CEO selection process. She said, “So it is disappointing to hear from Alma that the voices of our leaders did not appear to be particularly meaningful in the next stage of the CEO selection process and that rather this would be some series of random person-on-the-street  and panel meet-and-greets of potential finalists without clear connections to the level of input and discussion with the Board.”

   Obrenski told the Board of Education, “Honestly, that was not our expectation of this process, nor is it the meaningful seat at the table we have been assured we would have since the CEO announced that he was stepping down.”

   Obrenski noted that she participated in the Board of Education nominating committee and said that process allowed more input than the CTU is being given in the selection process for the new CEO. She noted that the CTU does not have the same level of interaction with the Board of Education as it has had with CEO Gordon, but she asked that the Board of Education enter a dialogue with the CTU leadership in the process of selecting a new CEO for CMSD. “It isn’t too late. We haven’t entered into the next phase of this process yet. We call upon each of you to consider how you will give voice to CTU and other important partners in this process.”

   Elaborating more on the CTU request, Obrenski said, “While we understand that both the Board and the Mayor have final say in the selection of the next CEO, we are urging you to create a process in which you will be able to hear directly from and have conversation with the people that will have to work with the new CEO and that know what we need in that person to continue the forward progress we have experienced during CEO Gordon’s tenure.”

   In concluding her remarks, CTU President Obrenski said, “Let us help you and inform the process so that you have what you need to make what we hope is the right choice.”

   Following CTU President Obrenski’s remarks, CTU First Vice President Tracy Radish, a fourth-grade teacher at Joseph Gallagher School, spoke to the Board of Education. Radish spoke of all the members of the Cleveland Teachers Union that work with children every day in the schools – the paraprofessionals, nurses, therapists, counselors, substitutes and teachers. She noted the task of finding a replacement for CEO Gordon would be difficult. She praised Gordon’s drive, commitment to collaboration and problem solving, and “his ability to bring together partners in the community for efforts that seem small but are really quite grand.”

   Radish said Gordon had “the ability to build trust from all corners of the community.”

   Radish then told the Board of Education, “The decision of who you recommend as the next CEO is one of the most critical decisions that you will be faced with and yet we (CTU) are on the verge of being left out in the cold. This is a task that should not be tackled alone. The people in this room are the dedicated paraprofessionals, nurses, psychologists, therapists, counselors, substitutes and teachers that ensure that the most vulnerable in our city are able to come to school and thrive. They educate, counsel, advise, strengthen, heal, and embolden our students. These are the only people that are in the schools with students each and every day. They are the CTU and yet they are on the verge of being left out in the cold. Don’t you think the CTU deserves more input than the job description and a casual meeting – actual real meaningful input on this critical decision? You can make that happen. Don’t leave them out in the cold.”

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