Gordon: Cleveland Schools Finally Have Momentum

CMSD CEO Eric Gordon speaking at the State of the Schools address
CMSD CEO Eric Gordon says recent improvements earned CMSD a D on the latest state report card, after years of failing grades. [City Club of Cleveland]

In his annual State of the Schools address Thursday, Cleveland public schools CEO Eric Gordon turned to Sir Isaac Newton to describe the district’s progress: the schools finally have momentum.

Propelled by the 7-year-old Cleveland Plan for Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), Gordon said that momentum shows in increased graduation rates and the 2.6 percent growth in K-3 literacy rates.

The improvements earned the district a D on the latest state report card, after years of failing grades.

“I want to make it clear that we are not celebrating a D. However, even our harshest critics must admit that while we have not yet arrived, we are certainly on our way,” Gordon said.

Progress could be halted if the 15-mil levy isn’t renewed next year, Gordon warned. And he urged an accurate count in the 2020 census, which will determine state and federal funding for the next decade.

Gordon’s address included an update on the Say Yes to Education program that provides post-secondary scholarships to all district graduates. CMSD became part of the national effort in January and has 16 participating schools this academic year.

Just as important as that academic support it offers, Gordon said, Say Yes also provides social capital – networks crucial to professional and personal success – such as support service like legal and health clinics, as well as opportunities to develop professional mentorships.

One student faced 60 days in jail for riding public transit without a ticket, but Gordon helped the student find an attorney.

“What this kid did was wrong, what’s different in urban schools, is the consequence of the action and that fate is often driven by the social capital the offender has,” Gordon said. “With family support specialists in every school, Say Yes can create that social capital for our kids and families where currently there is none.”

This year’s CMSD update recognized the work going on in the schools, said Cleveland Teacher’s Union President David Quolke, even as teachers work to improve even more.

“Eric tells the story the way we need to hear it,” Quolke said “While it is a D, it isn’t something that we celebrate, but it kind of lets teachers know we’re moving in the right direction.”

The district’s work is paying off in ways that aren’t captured on the state’s assessments, said Meryl Johnson, who is currently a member of the Ohio State Board of Education as well as a retired teacher with 40 years of experience in Cleveland’s public schools.

“I think that Eric Gordon is doing an excellent job in leading the district,” she said. “The report card is a limited measure of what’s happened in a school district so I really appreciate Eric showing so many examples of what’s really going on in schools.”

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