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New “Transformation Plan” for Cleveland Schools Expected in early December.

Monday, November 30, 2009 at 6:00 AM

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After years of poor ratings for Cleveland schools, CEO Eugene Sanders is getting ready to publish a plan he says will transform the district. ideastream®'s Ida Lieszkovszky has this story.

The list of issues facing the Cleveland City Schools will sound familiar to long time Northeast Ohio residents.  Poor academic performance, low graduation rates, declining enrollment, and budget shortfalls. No news there. But schools CEO Eugene Sanders thinks he’s got a solution to some old problems.

Sanders: We think the models that offer more choice more opportunity more options for our students and finally schools where our teaching faculty are identified on the basis of skill and competency and interview as opposed to seniority, I see those as key elements moving forward.

Sanders says charter and theme schools have found success, so they may be an option for future development.

There are few additional details about Sanders’ “transformation plan” at this point, but John Hairston, Chief Communications Officer for Cleveland Schools says dealing with a budget deficit of 52 million dollars and a shrinking student population is a part of the plan. Hairston says the district used to serve 90,000 students in 121 buildings. That number is now 50,000, and it’s expected to continue decreasing in the next few years.

Hairston: For every empty seat that we have it costs the district about $700.

So, Hairston says, some schools will have to shut their doors permanently.  That kind of move usually means some cuts in staffing. Hairston didn’t confirm this, but he didn’t deny it either.

Hairston: I don’t know that you expect to see some layoffs, but I would simply say that I do believe that it’s quite impossible to have a 52 million dollar deficit, have a transformation plan, and have a reduction in the number of children that you serve and continue to have the amount of people working in the district as you see today.

CEO Eugene Sanders is expected to unveil the full plan on December 8th.  It will go before the board at the end of January, and if passed, go into effect at the beginning of next school year.  The Cleveland Teachers Union has expressed frustration about being excluded in the development process of this plan, but Cheryl Elder Taylor, the principal at George Washington Carver Elementary, and a 25 year veteran of the Cleveland school system says she welcomes new reforms, even if they mean an uncertain future for some.

Taylor: We’re here to serve the district and we need to be prepared to move and adjust our schedules and our thinking towards what’s best for the district and the children.

Taylor expects that a new, research-based program will improve the district. Much of that research, funded by the Gund and Cleveland foundations, spells out in numbers what Clevelanders have known for a long time: that city schools are desperately in need of improvement.

Ida Lieszkovszky, 90.3

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