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Cleveland Mayor Bibb names new education chief, joining new schools CEO

 Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Holly Trifiro, his education advisor, talk about the need to improve college and career readiness of students in the Cleveland school district.
Patrick O’Donnell
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Holly Trifiro, his education advisor, talk in 2022 about the need to improve college and career readiness of students in the Cleveland school district.

Cleveland will soon have a new chief of education in Mayor Justin Bibb’s office, he announced today, as Cleveland Metropolitan School District begins a new year under new CEO Warren Morgan.

Current education chief Holly Trifiro will be stepping down, while Michele Pomerantz will take her place; Trifiro will remain in place through the end of the month as the two work together on a transition plan.

Pomerantz worked as a Cleveland teacher for 20 years before a half decade spent working for the Cleveland Teachers Union (from 2008 to 2012) and a year at the American Federation of Teachers, a national union. After that she served as a senior adviser to former Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon (as a policy and labor liaison).

Trifiro has been with the Bibb administration for a year and a half, serving as the mayor's liaison to the school district and the charter schools that partner with the district.

“I am proud of the work we have done in the education space during the first 18 months of my administration,” Mayor Bibb said in a press release. “From Cleveland Reads and ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) investments, to strong selections for the Board of Education and an inclusive search for CMSD’s next CEO, we have accomplished a lot and I am deeply grateful to Chief Trifiro for leading these efforts.

"As we begin a new school year with new leadership, it is an optimal time to bring in the next Chief of Education and I wish Chief Trifiro all the best as she embarks on this next chapter of her career," he added.

Trifiro said in the release she would be leaving the mayor's administration but would stay involved in the local education scene.

“My experience in the Mayor's Office has deepened my understanding of the value of community organizations and creative educators working directly with students to reimagine learning in a post-pandemic context,” Trifiro said. “With this insight, I will be working on strategies to grow high-quality engaging learning experiences in our city. The mayor’s commitment to a youth agenda paired with Dr. Morgan's experience leading meaningful academic progress signal a phase of incredible opportunity for Cleveland’s young people, and I am excited to continue to play a role in that work.”

Pomerantz most recently was governmental relations manager for the MetroHealth hospital system. She also worked for former Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish as director of regional collaboration, prior to that role.

“I am both humbled and excited to be named Cleveland’s next Chief of Education,” Pomerantz said in the release. “This role draws on every facet of my 30 plus year career in education and government, and I am ready to hit the ground running. It is an honor to be selected to serve our young scholars, families, educators, administrators and citywide stakeholders. Together, I believe we will achieve great things for and with the young people in this city.”

Trifiro previously was executive director of greater Cleveland’s Teach for America branch, a non-profit devoted to placing new teachers in low-income districts. Teach for America has proven controversial at times, including one of its largest funders, the Walton Family Foundation, boosting the organization's support for charter schools, despite the organization's initial focus on public education.

The Cleveland Teachers Union has voiced concern with Bibb’s priorities in the past regarding his support for charter schools. Bibb has said an all-of-the-above approach – public and charter, as outlined in the Cleveland Plan adopted under Gordon's tenure – is needed to achieve quicker progress in the city.

“Ms. Pomerantz’s experience in public education, particularly in CMSD I think will be an asset to her and the work that she will do in the mayor’s office," Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski said in a statement Tuesday.

Obrenski also gave Trifiro kudos for her time working with the city and schools.

“Chief Trifiro did a great job during her time with the city and we appreciate having been able to work with her," she said.

Obrenski declined to respond to a question about whether or not the shift in education chiefs will affect the city's priorities on charter-public school relations.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.