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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Five Candidates And One Incumbent Seek Top East Cleveland Schools Job

East Cleveland City Schools Superintendent Myrna Loy Corley, and candidate for CEO, during Jan. 31, 2019 public forum. [Matt Richmond / ideastream]
East Cleveland schools superintendent Myrna Loy Corley

The six candidates for CEO of East Cleveland City Schools made their pitches in front of community members Thursday night, during what was an unusual format for a job interview.

The six candidates sat in a row in front of about 150 people.

One awkward detail: the current superintendent, Myrna Loy Corley, was one of them. And she had a lot of support in the room.

The panel of five Academic Distress Commission members asked each of the candidates typical job interview questions, including 'name an obstacle you've overcome' and 'how would your staff describe your management style.'

Corley answered each with examples of work already under way at the schools, and each answer was met with applause from the crowd. This led each of the five other candidates to offer praise for the work already being done in the district, while describing how they plan to turn it around.

Under House Bill 70, passed in 2015, the state is taking over East Cleveland schools because the district received three straight years of F grades on its state report card. The process has been met with fierce opposition in East Cleveland and the school board is suing the state to halt the takeover.

The CEO position, which is paid for by the state, will have the power to rewrite the curriculum, fire teachers or administrators, close schools or transform them into charters and renegotiate labor agreements. The power to put a tax levy on the ballot stays with the city’s elected school board.

A search firm called WorldBridge Partners recruited the five other candidates. Three are local school officials and two are from out-of-state.

Henry Pettiegrew is an assistant superintendent from the Maple Heights City Schools. Pettiegrew showed up with a 90-day plan for starting the transformation of East Cleveland's schools.

Pettiegrew said he would start by figuring out ways to get the graduation rate up.

“I have some ideas, some examples, of how we can quickly get kids what they need to graduate,” said Pettiegrew.

Orlando Ramos, a principal in Wisconsin, stressed literacy training.

“Every test is a reading test. Every teacher teaches literacy,” said Ramos.

In 2017, Ramos removed himself from the running for superintendent jobs in St. Paul and Detroit. It came out that he had filed for bankruptcy and failed to disclose it during the hiring process in St. Paul where he was a finalist for the position.

Marques Stewart, a principal in Atlanta, said he’d speak to students first.

“I want to see what their perception is of the district,” said Stewart. “What do they see that can improve? And what can we do better as adults?”

Andrew Koonce, an administrator at Cleveland schools, promised not to sideline the board of education. The CEO position takes away the budgetary authority of elected school boards, a source of controversy in the other  two other districts that have already hired CEOs.

Sandy Womack from Cleveland Heights-University Heights district has been quoted elsewhere criticizing the spread of charter schools.

The plan is to choose a CEO by end of day Friday.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.