Warren Morgan will be the next Cleveland schools CEO
Warren Morgan will be the next CEO of Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the Cleveland Board of Education and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced Tuesday. He'll take over the leadership position on July 1.
Bibb touted the high level of input gathered during the search process, saying that local input led to the selection of Morgan, who is currently the chief academic officer for Indianapolis Public Schools. Bibb called Morgan the right leader for CMSD and said he was struck by his empathy and ability to listen to students.
"With all the challenges our students are going through right now, it's that kind of empathetic, emotional, driven leadership," Bibb said. "We need to take our district to the next level and build on the amazing work we've seen under CEO Eric Gordon."
He also said Morgan's track record in Indianapolis and beyond didn't hurt.
"That district has served as number one in the state over the last three years in terms of its growth in English and math in statewide assessment," Bibb said, "So he has proven that he can truly move the needle in terms of academic achievement for our students all across the district."
Big shoes and a big mandate
Morgan will oversee one of Ohio’s largest school districts in one of the country’s poorest cities, with roughly 36,300 students – the majority of whom are Black – along with thousands of staff and almost 100 school buildings.
Morgan has big shoes to fill. He’ll be taking over from current CEO Eric Gordon, who has been at the district for more than a decade and oversaw a period of significant improvement for the district, including in graduation rates and kindergarten readiness. However, student test scores, despite some modest improvements, have remained stubbornly low, an achievement gap persists between white students and students of color and the pandemic caused serious setbacks on all fronts.
Gordon said he has full confidence in Morgan, noting he hired Morgan when he worked at CMSD previously. He said Morgan has the talent for the job.
"He also has the professional humility to understand that this is not an easy job and that he's not just going to return with simple solutions to complex challenges that face our young people, our caregivers, our educators," Gordon said.
He handed off a baton to Morgan, a relic from his state of the schools speech last year. Morgan noted he's a runner and was just running up Superior Avenue earlier in the day, so the metaphor was appropriate, he said.
Morgan praised Gordon for laying great groundwork for him and called Bibb a bold and visionary leader.
He said it was great to come back to a district that he previously worked at (as an academic superintendent and administrator from 2014 to 2016).
"It just feels really, really great to be home," he said. "And words can't describe how excited I am for this opportunity."
Morgan grew up on Chicago’s south side. Prior to that, he was a principal at Chicago Public Schools for roughly four years and, before that, a teacher and corps member with Teach for America, according to his LinkedIn page. Most prominently, he was a White House Fellow for presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump.
Morgan's philosophy on education, he said, was informed by a house fire that left his family homeless late in his high school years and by his struggles with racism and academics while attending a majority white college.
“There are far too many kids facing struggles at home who are ostracized because of it,” he said. “I’m back home, and I cannot wait to do this work with you.”
Two students, who helped interview Morgan last month, as well as a CMSD parent all had praise for Morgan during the press conference Tuesday. Mayar Abdelhady, a student at the John Hay Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, said she came to CMSD as an immigrant from Egypt and didn't know English. She said she felt the district embraced her and helped her thrive with access to tutors and great teachers. She said she feels Morgan will continue to keep CMSD a positive place for her and fellow students.
"He came in with a 100-day plan, and I felt like that was such an amazing move in step because he knew he didn't know if he was going to get elected or not," she said.
Morgan noted he wants to do a "culture audit" to look at the learning climate in each CMSD building, and also conduct an extensive listening tour once he's in office to better understand the needs of the district.
How did they arrive at the decision?
The selection of Morgan caps off a months-long search for the district's next CEO, which kicked off in earnest late last year, a few months after Gordon surprised many by announcing he would be stepping down at the end of the school year. The search involved a survey with thousands of responses as well as interviews with dozens of parents, teachers and local stakeholders, while the finalist interviews were livestreamed recently.
Morgan won the approval of the CMSD board and the city's mayor (Cleveland is rare in that it has mayoral control of schools) over Ricardo “Rocky” Torres, who was born and raised in Cleveland and is assistant superintendent for student services at Seattle Public Schools. In Cleveland, the mayor must concur with the Board of Education to approve a new CEO; the mayor also has the power to appoint school board members from a group of nominees selected by a local nominating panel.
Morgan is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, as is Bibb. He served as executive director of the education nonprofit Teach for America's St. Louis branch. Holly Trifiro, Bibb’s chief education officer, was executive director of Teach for America in Ohio and for greater Cleveland.
A source close to the matter who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic said a majority of Cleveland Board of Education members initially favored Torres, but the mayor was heavily in favor of Warren. A spokesperson for Bibb said both candidates were highly-qualified, identified through a "rigorous and inclusive search process."
"As part of the process, the Mayor interviewed the candidates and spent significant time reviewing stakeholder comments and perspectives," the statement reads. "Students, parents, school-based staff, and union leaders provided notably strong positive feedback about Dr. Morgan. Based on all of the evidence and feedback cultivated through this search process, the Mayor is confident that Dr. Morgan is the right candidate to lead CMSD into the future. He is proud to support the board’s unanimous recommendation to appoint Dr. Morgan as the next CEO of CMSD."
Morgan will take over stewardship of the Cleveland Plan that was implemented during Gordon's tenure, a state-approved measure formulated by the school district and local leaders to improve the quality of education in Cleveland through major investments, reimagined priorities and closer partnerships with local charter schools. The Cleveland Teachers Union has previously raised concerns about Bibb boosting support for charter schools in the city, to the detriment of public schools. When asked about his position on charter schools, Morgan said he supports all high-quality schools but said his focus will be on CMSD.
"I'm for strong quality schools, and I'm appointed as the the CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District," he said. "so my top priority is Cleveland Metropolitan School District, making sure that our scholars within our jurisdiction have quality schools, quality ways, and we measure them."
Morgan has said he wants to ensure parents and students have access to high-quality schools in every neighborhood, making sure there's equitable access to resources in every neighborhood, which was a common complaint about CMSD heard in a survey conducted of the district earlier this year.
Morgan will also likely be heavily involved in plans as Bibb rolls out a "youth cabinet" he has said is being developed, meant to address issues facing young people in the city.
The Cleveland Teachers Union congratulated Morgan in a written statement Tuesday. Union president Shari Obrenski also thanked Gordon “for his dedication of Cleveland’s students and community.” The union looks forward to continuing its collaboration with Morgan “as we all strive do what is best for Cleveland’s children and their families,” the statement said.