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Safety, academic rigor are top priorities for next Cleveland schools CEO, according to survey

The CMSD Board of Education discussing the results of surveys and other community participation on the search for the next CEO.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
The CMSD Board of Education discussing the results of surveys and other community participation on the search for the next CEO.

Improving safety and security inside and outside Cleveland schools is the number one concern for parents, teachers and students, those stakeholders told Cleveland Metropolitan School District in thousands of survey responses and in dozens of meetings with the search firm for the district's next CEO. The findings were shared with the CMSD Board of Education Tuesday night.

Monica Santana Rosen, CEO of Alma Advisory group, told the board that concern was followed closely by a need to prioritize the health and wellbeing of students and a need to improve the quality of academic programs.

"What a lot of people are looking for is for the next CEO to be able to talk about the plan for addressing safety and security when, you know, and building a vision that's accessible, that people can understand moving forward," Rosen said.

Other priorities for the next CMSD CEO include improving incentives for teachers and staff to maintain those demanding positions; increasing access to career and technical education for students; addressing issues with workforce shortages and truancy among students.

Rosen said concerns about educational achievement disparities based on race also loomed large, a concern the board has previously shared.

"There is concern in the community about what people see as a difference in proficiency between different groups of your student population and of wondering as to why that difference exists and what are the resources and opportunities that could be provided to all students to make sure that each of your students can be successful," she said.

Rosen said there was also concern from some that resources were not fairly balanced between school buildings, with the higher-performing schools seeing more opportunities for students.

The results tabulated by Alma Advisory Group came from more than 3,700 survey responses and at least 63 individual interviews (which involved about 1,200 people). According to a breakdown of who the survey participants were, teachers made up 29% of the participants, while parents/family members constituted 23.8%. About 37% of the survey participants were Black, compared with 34% being white and 9.3% being Hispanic (CMSD students and families are about 63% Black and 14% white).

There were positives highlighted by community members that Rosen noted they wanted the next CEO to embrace, including:

  • Championing school choice for students and families, with CMSD having a diversity of specialized schools
  • Supporting the Say Yes Cleveland scholarship program and its family support specialists who provide wrap-around services to families
  • Emphasizing social-emotional learning, which teaches students healthy behaviors and helps them learn how to cope with trauma
  • Collaborating with community partners to create summer learning opportunities
  • Enrolling Cleveland's youngest students in pre-kindergarten programs

In general, Rosen said the community wants a leader who understands the community, knows how to collaborate with others to get things done and is dedicated to focusing on the safety of students and staff while boosting academic and career-oriented programs.
"The community said to us loud and clear, they want an attentive, empathetic, experienced leader that cares deeply about the Cleveland community," she said.

Board of Education Vice Chair Robert M. Heard said he didn't want to prescribe exactly what qualities the next CEO should have but said he or she would need to be capable of "turning on a dime." He also wanted them to come in ready to work.

"One of the things that I would hope that the next CEO does is come in and, once that person is hired, say, 'Here is my first 100 days in office,'" he said. "With input from the board saying, 'okay, how do we fold some goals into those?'"

Earlier Tuesday, Rosen and several board of education members stopped by Cleveland City Council's Workforce, Education, Training and Youth Development Committee to gather some of their input.

Council member Joe Jones, who initially supported the transition in the city to a mayoral-controlled board of education more than two decades ago, said he’s not happy with the trajectory of the district or its board in the time since, arguing people are leaving the city to seek better educational opportunities elsewhere. He also said he wants more communication from the board of education.

So what we're faced with right now in our city, unfortunately, is a school system that continues to each year have some new plan, some new program, some new marketing. ‘So it seems like this didn't work. And we're going to go over to this. And if that didn't work, we're going to go over to this new program.’”

Council member Stephanie Howse said black children in particular have been left behind by the educational system.

"I just would hope that we can attract someone who is grounded in community," Howse said. "Also getting someone and identifying and understanding that we are just in a place where education has not worked holistically, for Black children in particular, it has not worked. It hasn't worked, and I hope they would have a mindset to creating a educational experience that works and centers Black children."

Council members did have positive things to say about district leadership as well, with new Councilman Danny Kelly noting the next CEO should be “approachable” like outgoing CEO Eric Gordon. Multiple council members noted the CEO should excel in listening to the community and act with urgency on children’s reading competency and readiness for work post-graduation.

The next step is for the district to advertise the position and hopefully screen candidates in March, followed by finalist interviews in April and appoint the new CEO in late April or early May. At the same time, Rosen said the search firm started looking for prospects in December, not long after being hired on; a timeline presented by Rosen notes Alma was building "interest and applicants for the role in January," with "recruitment and screening" continuing in February. This is notably before the posting has even been advertised, with the timeline noting that's set to occur sometime in February.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.