US Department of Education’s Secretary Duncan Visits Cleveland Highlights the importance of collaboration in achieving successful education reform

On April 19, 2013, the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was back in Ohio, visiting both Cleveland and Columbus school officials to discuss education reform efforts ongoing in both cities. During his visit, Secretary Duncan met with Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and 21 local school superintendents. His overall purpose was to endorse the Cleveland Municipal School District’s Plan for Transforming Cleveland Schools, known as the Cleveland Plan. As you know the plan, along with a new levy approved by Cleveland residents that bring in needed funds, helped the district avoid falling under the control of a state academic distress commission.

Duncan participated in a roundtable discussion at Anton Grdina Elementary School located in Ward 5, adjacent to the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, on Cleveland’s education reform plan with Mayor Frank Jackson, CMSD CEO Eric Gordon, and Cleveland’s Teacher Union President David Quolke.

This was a particularly important conversation to the many organizations, funders, and residents that have partnered with Cleveland Schools and the Sisters of Charity Foundation (Promise Neighborhood lead agency) since they continue to work towards excellent schools as a federally unfunded Promise Neighborhood.

During his visit, Secretary Duncan emphasized that the Cleveland Plan could be a strong model of collaboration between the district, union, a democrat mayor and republican governor. Additionally, he commented on the Administration’s commitment to funding early learning.

With only local resources for support, the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood has carved out a strategy that is focused on both short-term needs and long-term gains. Like the Obama administration, the Cleveland Promise Neighborhood is investing heavily in early learning. With over 25% of the neighborhood’s population ages 0-5, a concerted effort is being made to ensure all children are enrolled in a high quality early learning experience, Including home based programs like SPARK. This program was born out of the lead agency’s sister ministry, Sisters of Charity Foundation Canton and has already shown significant gains.

In only its second year serving students and families in the Promise neighborhood, SPARK Central participants are showing an average of 4 points higher score with the most progress amongst the city schools. Also a 2011 study found students participating in SPARK were four times more prepared and moved from band 1 (intense intervention) to band 2 (targeted support).

Foundation President Sue Krey recognized the importance of Secretary Duncan’s visit since it shows the united leadership from all levels of government for education reform.

“We appreciate Secretary Duncan’s visit to Cleveland to support the City’s great momentum in implementing significant education reform,” Krey said. “We are also pleased with the Department’s focus on early learning which nicely aligns with a focus of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.”

Promise Director, Sonya Pryor-Jones attended the event on behalf of the foundation and the numerous organizations that make up Cleveland’s Central Promise Neighborhood. During the event, Sonya Pryor-Jones had an opportunity to speak with Secretary Duncan to share the investment and energy by the Promise partners to implement this best practice model in Cleveland. She emphasized that although CCPN was federally unfunded, this community-wide collaborative has set focused goals in a few areas, with a special emphasis on early learning.

Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland also spoke with the Secretary afterwards about the importance of funding projects such as the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. Secretary Duncan shared that the President had $240 million in next budget, and was looking at inter-agency initiatives involving HUD, Justice and Education to address challenges children face outside of school.

Pryor-Jones felt encouraged by the Secretary’s visit. She stated, “the commitments made by our partners to remain focused on our vision that all children from the Central Promise neighborhood will be prepared to go to college and have fulfilling careers is beginning to gain some traction.

“This national spotlight on Cleveland along with all of the hard work being accomplished by many partners, will hopefully accelerate the district’s investment strategy and our Promise efforts to move the needle on student achievement and success as quickly as possible,” Pryor-Jones said. “The community’s children are waiting.”

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland felt today was an important opportunity to stand with the district and other community partners to show our commitment and investment, while urging the Secretary to support our efforts at the community level as well.