By the end of 2012 school year, the Cleveland school district was financially struggling with low teacher, staff and student moral.
“We were just keeping the lights on,” Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon said recently to an audience of 100 plus Central families and teachers from neighborhood schools. “We had nothing left to cut.”
Plus, the school district had seen a dramatic fall in the academic success of their students, with the state of Ohio declaring the entire district in Academic Emergency – an F, Gordon said.
“We had gotten all the way to a C, but with dwindling resources, we dropped,” he said.
Gordon used his bleak opening statement to highlight the optimism and hope he now had for the school district to turn around. His focus included the three elementary and two high schools in the Central Neighborhood.
District schools got a desperately needed infusion of financial support from Cleveland residents – about $77 million a year – by passing the school levy last November, the first one in 16 years. The state of Ohio also earmarked $6 million for the district to support the Cleveland plan.
Gordon emphasized the influx of new dollars, a new Cleveland school transformation plan and a handful of “investment schools,” struggling schools that are getting intensive support. In some cases the school has seen a complete overhaul, like in the case of Carl & Louis Stokes Academy.
Students who came back this year found themselves at a new building, the Alfred A. Benesch School, with a new principal as well as all new teachers and assistant principals.
The district has four years to prove voters were right to dig deeper into their pockets. The levy expires in four years; voters are expecting significant academic improvement to convince them to renew the levy.
A Central parent asked Gordon what he’ll be telling residents at next year’s annual Central Promise Neighborhood Town Hall Meeting and to explain how the money will be spent. The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is a collaborative initiative led by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland to help ensure children get a good education with a goal that all children go to college.
“We recalled 200 teachers (before school started); we restored 50 minutes of instruction, bringing back music, physical education and library media,” Gordon said, adding that those things had been cut to balance the school budget.
Gordon also emphasized that the school district was going to invest in early education – the come ready, stay ready – idea. Studies show that children who are ready for kindergarten do better throughout all 12 years of school.
And the school district hopes to open a preschool center soon – maybe later this school year – to help ensure three and four year olds get high quality early learning services to get them ready for school. Gordon also talked about a future plan of some schools in session all year, with three week breaks every quarter extending the instruction time by four weeks. He noted that studies show students often fall back during the summer vacation, but they retain what they’ve learned after three weeks.
“No superintendent can promise results; if they do they are lying,” Gordon said. “But we are doing different things that are more likely to get results.”