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Cleveland teachers speak out on gun violence, safety and input on next CEO

A line of Cleveland Metropolitan School District school buses parked in Cleveland's Playhouse Square in fall 2022.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
A line of Cleveland Metropolitan School District school buses parked in Cleveland's Playhouse Square in fall 2022.

Cleveland teachers showed up in force during a school board meeting Tuesday, raising concerns about gun violence, school safety and what they called a lack of teacher input so far in the search for Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s next CEO.

Two teachers, citing the shooting deaths of a student outside John Adams High School this month and another teen near Glenville High School in August, told the CMSD Board of Education they were concerned about safety in their buildings and the trauma they and their students face.

Michelle Jones, a teacher at Glenville High School, said staff did not feel supported by the administration after 16-year-old Devonte Johnson was shot and killed outside her building.

“We sat in our cafeteria crying, wondering what is happening to our community, what is happening to our students and what's happening to us,” she said, “because we’ve got to put on a mask. Come Monday, we’ve got to pretend, ‘Hey, come on in tomorrow. I'm about to teach you.’ But these kids, that was their friend out there. They're walking past his memorial.”

Jones said she’s been told her building has two security guards, however, she said teachers have had to deal with fights consistently.

“We are watching 10 to 11 kids stomp each other,” she said. “I call 911. ‘We need some help.’ (I’m told) ‘Please call your safety and security department.’ I don’t know the number, but I know I’ve got kids bleeding.”

Roseann Canfora, a spokesperson for CMSD, said the district is continuing to “aggressively” recruit new security officers, but is below the number it needs. The district did hire 11 new part-time officers that began work this week.

“We currently have 119 fulltime officers and 21 part-time officers,” she said. “All 21 part-time officers have accepted an invitation to begin our OPOTA (Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy) training course in February to become full-time officers as well. Our ideal staffing for school-based safety and security officers would be 182 full-time officers.”

Andrea Dockery-Murray, a teacher at John Adams High School, said teachers and students are struggling to deal with trauma in the aftermath of 18-year-old Pierre McCoy being shot and killed at a bus stop outside John Adams High School. She said some students have not been back since the shooting.

"His body was on the ground until nightfall," she said. "His mother had to come up and it was... it was the worst day of our lives."

She said she did appreciate the help of counselors and other professionals who were brought to her school immediately after the conflict, through the district’s “rapid response” team, to help students process the tragedy. But that support alone isn’t enough, Dockery-Murray said.

“There are all types of triggers around the building and outside the building, every day,” she said. “The bus stop where it happened is memorialized (with) balloons… we cannot we cannot continue with this. And I just, this, cannot be how we educate students to just talk to someone, get over it and come in (to school).”

In other news, many other teachers showed up to the meeting, including Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski, to raise concern about the search process for CMSD’s next CEO.

Obrenski says the union met with the Alma Advisory Group, the firm conducting the research and came away concerned. She says Alma told the union it plans to randomly choose teachers, administrators and others to meet with the candidates in the next stage of the search. Union and community leaders, she said, should be more directly involved in that process.

“It is disappointing to hear from Alma that the voices of our leaders did not appear to be particularly meaningful in the next stages of the CEO selection process,” she said.

The search firm and the district finished gathering input from parents and others at several large community meetings last week. And community input is still being sought via a survey on the CMSD website.

Canfora provided a statement from the CMSD Board of Education issued Tuesday arguing it is “fully committed” to an inclusive and transparent search process. She said 50 meetings have been held by the search firm total so far with a variety of stakeholders.

“Last week, the Alma team met with students, staff, leadership, non-profit, business and philanthropic partners, community partners and faith leaders, Cleveland Teachers’ Union President Shari Obrenski and with CTU’s full Executive Committee,” the statement reads. “Seven focus groups are also scheduled this week for CTU’s members, Central Office Civil Service employees, Assistant Principals and other school leaders, and members of our Trades, Patrolmen’s, LIUNA, SEIU and Teamsters unions.”

The board said it hoped, by early February, to have given all stakeholders “numerous opportunities” to provide input on the development of the job profile and screening process for the next CEO.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.