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The Cleveland Plan continues to be CMSD's 'North Star' despite pandemic setbacks

The Cleveland Transformation Alliance's Cleveland Plan progress report on the 2020-2021 academic school year points to the impacts caused by the pandemic. [Cleveland Transformation Alliance]
Cleveland Transformation Alliance logo

In the decade since the Cleveland Plan was put in place to improve the quality of education in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, high school graduation rates and overall academic achievement improved. But the latest CMSD progress report from the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA) finds the pandemic had a huge impact on students in the 2020-2021 academic year, leaving them “traumatized” and “still struggling.”

“They [students] have lost social connections, emotional support, and learning time, and it will take an enormous investment from the state and local community to get our students back on track and feeling safe and supported,” the report's executive summary reads.

One of the pandemic’s biggest impacts on CMSD has been fewer students moving onto college or a post-secondary education. 

The number of CMSD graduates enrolling in college within one year of high school dropped ten percentage points from the prior year down to 39%. 

It could be “the beginning of a fairly long-term trend” that students of color could have an especially hard time getting out of, according to the Alliance’s Executive Director Meghann Marnecheck. But, she adds, the whole community can help course correct. 

“Every person, every organization that's passionate about education can find a way to become involved and to offer help,” Marnecheck said. “On the individual basis, there's so many ways that individuals can get involved, become a True to You mentor, become a mentor with College Now.”

The decreased rate of college enrollment is due, in part, to many CMSD students who took jobs last year to help provide household income during the pandemic, she said.

The progress report also shows the negative impact the pandemic had on early childhood enrollment in Cleveland schools. 

Within CMSD preschools, enrollment declined by 53% between the 2019–20 and 2020–21 school years. 

The report suggests those enrollment numbers are climbing this year due to families returning to work and vaccinations increasing, but still there are challenges to early childhood enrollment.

Despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic, Marnecheck called the Cleveland Plan the North Star by which Cleveland’s schools have made great strides over the past decade.

The Alliance points to the high school graduation rate which jumped from 50% at the Plan’s first year of implementation to 80% before the pandemic hit.

The Cleveland Plan 2.0

In September, CTA introduced a refreshed Cleveland Plan that looked at the successes of the original plan and made changes based on what’s needed now.

One of the four pillars of the original Cleveland Plan was focused on “decentralizing” CMSD’s administration and creating autonomy at each campus. For the most part, according to Marnecheck, that has been completed and is a success.

“Now there's about 73% of autonomy for individual school principals when it comes to their budget, which is up about 25% from where it was when we first started this work in 2012 and 2013,” Marnecheck said

The major focus of the refreshed plan is on educational equity with an overarching goal of ensuring that “all Cleveland public education students will have a high-quality, equitable education in schools that inspire joy in learning.”

The refreshed plan lists five pillars working to reach that goal.

  • Pillar 1. Grow the number of students attending high-quality public district and public charter schools in every neighborhood in Cleveland.
  • Pillar 2. Ensure all school leaders are empowered with the resources, supports, and authority necessary to equitably meet the needs of their school community.
  • Pillar 3. Invest and phase in innovative programs and equitable best practices across all public district and public charter schools to help all students thrive from birth through college and career.
  • Pillar 4. Through the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, ensure fidelity to and equitable community engagement with this Plan for all public district and public charter schools in the city.
  • Pillar 5.  Embed organizational and educational equity principles and activities that are replicable and measurable for all public district and public charter schools in the city

“We saw it as so important, the urgency of educational equity to ensure that every child is receiving the resources they need to get to success, that we included it as a fifth pillar,” Marnecheck said of the refreshed plan.

She says while the original Cleveland Plan had been Mayor Frank Jackson's vision, she expects Mayor-elect Justin Bibb will bring his own innovative ideas for high quality education in the city.

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