In his 12e and final State of the Schools address, outgoing Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon likened his work with CMSD to a role in an important relay race. He said the time had come for him to hand over to his replacement at the end of the school year.
Gordon, in his speech hosted by the City Club of Cleveland at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland’s Public Square, said it was critical to the schools’ success that he come out on a high.
“The CMSD is sound, strong and strategically well positioned in a way we haven’t been in decades,” he said. “Furthermore, the district is uniquely prepared to accelerate the momentum we’ve built together and face new challenges in the next few years.”
When Gordon took the reins in 2011, the district was struggling financially and academically, the state was threatening to take over operations, and public confidence in the district was at an all-time low.
Gordon argued that schools have seen a strong turnaround since then, starting with the implementation of Cleveland’s plan in 2012, which meant realigning the district as a whole.
“The Cleveland School Board has held me and my team accountable for three critical goals: first, to increase the academic performance of the district and its schools; second, to ensure that the CMSD was in sound organizational and financial health; and finally, to restore public confidence in our schools,” Gordon said.
Highlights Gordon has since listed include:
- Improvements in K-3 reading skills, improved math and reading scores and “record increases in graduation rates” from 50% when Gordon started to around 80% in recent years, although this rate dropped in the last year to 74% due to the pandemic.
- The approval of three levies and a bond issue to adequately fund the district and major renovations and construction of new buildings (20 new school facilities were created during Gordon’s tenure)
- Development of several community strategies and non-profit organizations, including Say Yes to Education which provides free tuition to CMSD students who attend four years of high school and live in the district; the Pre4CLE high-quality preschool initiative; and the PACE career planning and exploration program.
- Strong relationships with unions and building a “high quality workforce”.
More recent developments include major improvements in school safety and information technology, a “modernized” bus fleet, as well as the district being “individual” with a laptop or other device for each student and providing a laptop to each graduate as they head to college or another career after school.
Recent labor negotiations have meant that every K-8 school has a full-time art, music and physical education teacher, and every school has both a full-time medical professional. and a full-time community, college and professional coordinator.
Gordon did not mention the recent controversy over the direction of the school district regarding public charter schools, with the Cleveland teachers’ union expressing concern over Mayor Justin Bibb’s growing support for those schools. Gordon reiterated throughout his speech that it was his decision to step down and he felt it was the right time to do so.
Shari Obrenski, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said she was fine, as long as the next CEO continued the progress started under Gordon.
“As long as we have a new CEO who will maintain this vision and maintain this spirit of collaboration, and keep these partners together around the table working so well together, I think we can continue to move forward,” a- she declared.
Meryl Johnson, a member of the state board of education and a retired teacher with more than 40 years of experience in Cleveland schools, said the biggest challenge for Gordon’s replacement will be the ability to connect with the community, which she applauded for Gordon’s ability to do so. .
“Those are the biggest challenges, especially for people who aren’t of color,” she said. “They need to work with the community in a way that they are accepted and trusted. And if they don’t understand that, they won’t do much.
Gordon noted that some of the district’s scores on the state’s annual report card have returned to pre-pandemic levels, and he reported that this showed the district had the “highest score” of all school districts. urban Ohio, although he did not say how he arrived at this metric.
The report card showed the district had a four-star rating in the “Gap Reduction” and “Progress” categories, which were higher than most other urban districts in Ohio, but also a five-star rating in the areas of early childhood success. and graduation rates.
Gordon noted that there have been significant leadership transitions at many other Cleveland-area organizations, from City Hall to nonprofits like the George Fund Foundation to local universities like Cleveland State. University, which makes it a good time for a change of direction at CMSD as well.
In his closing remarks, Gordon reiterated the metaphor of the relay race.
“When we reach trade-in time this spring, I will be, with more gratitude than I can express here, fully prepared to hand over the baton and leave a new pair of fully laced running shoes to the next CEO.” , did he declare. .