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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Pandemic As A Pivot, Opportunity To 'Reset" CMSD Status Quo, Gordon Says

CMSD CEO Eric Gordon delivered a virtual State of the Schools address Tuesday. [City Club of Cleveland]
CMSD CEO Eric Gordon

Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon used his annual State of the Schools address Tuesday to highlight progress in the district, calling it one of the fastest improving in the country.

Nine years ago, Gordon said, CMSD was the worst performing school district in Ohio – a stark contrast to its current status.

“Our graduation rate, a mere 52.2 percent in 2011, soared to 80.1 percent this year. Our 80.9 percent graduation rate for Cleveland's Black students and our 82.6 percent graduation rate for Hispanic students each bested their statewide peers by over 5 percentage points.”

Gordon also said the pandemic is offering the district an opportunity to “reset.”

“We can work to perpetuate the status quo or disrupt it, and we can choose to either pause for the moment or to reset,” said Gordon. “If we had received a state report card this year, we would most certainly have lost ground because of the school shutdown. But I know we can do this. In fact, what makes the possibility of a reset in the CMSD so desirable to me is that there is no place in America that is more prepared to do so than Cleveland.”

Gordon pointed to the fact that the district was able to address the digital divide that plagues the region and equip almost all students with devices and internet access in time for the start of school.  Gordon said that in a pre-COVID world, it was considered “nearly impossible for CMSD to be a one-to-one district, with the district providing each child with an iPad, Chromebook tablet or laptop to support his or her learning.

“In fact, as late as last March, our Advanced Placement computer science teachers assigned low-tech homework knowing that their students didn't have the computer or the internet to practice actual computer science at home. Imagine that in an Advanced Placement class in CMSD today, every student now has a tablet or laptop computer and their families and caregivers have hotspots or other access to the internet, a large number of them for the first time in their lives.”

Students and staff can return to school more nimble and flexible when it comes to how they teach and learn, “having defined and practiced a new learning relationship,” Gordon said.

CMSD has not yet determined when students will return to in-person learning, Gordon said Tuesday. School was back in session Sept. 8 and the district has committed to at least a nine-week remote-learning period.

“We want to continue to look at the public health data. It's improving in Cleveland right now, which is great news. But we also know there's a lot of forecasting that October, November, December could be bad because of winter conditions,” Gordon said. “We also want to resurvey our families and caregivers and our educators to make sure that they're confident that we can be safe in our schools.”

The continuation of improvements for CMSD is dependent in part on Cleveland voters approving the renewal of the current 15 mill school levy, Gordon said, which accounts for 12 percent of the district's annual budget, or about $66 million.

“If it were to fail, we would be facing really significant cuts,” he said. “Not only were we at the end of the levy cycle pre-COVID, but we've also spent a lot of additional resources responding to buying all of the technology, buying all the hotspots, running the food programs and those sorts of things.”

CMSD is also asking voters for a 5 mill per year increase, which would cost each Cleveland household an additional $7 per month.

During his City Club speech, Gordon also thanked Say Yes Cleveland for giving CMSD graduates access to tuition-free education after high school. National nonprofit  Say Yes to Education chose  Cleveland as its fourth community-wide location in 2019, providing wrap-around services for students and their families as early as kindergarten and eventually offeres college tuition assistance and mentorship programs for all qualifying CMSD students.

Gordon also used his City Club speech to address this summer’s racial reckoning.

“The killing of George Floyd made it impossible for us to ignore the ravages of racism and social injustice in the lives of the poorest and most disenfranchised among us,” said Gordon. It made it impossible to ignore the unconscionable inequities that plague people and children of color for generations.”

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”