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New teachers learn ins and outs of CMSD at BLUE Institute (video)



New CMSD teacher Gary Hicks, Sr. had goosebumps on his arms and a smile on his face.

Hicks had just left a seminar at CMSD’s BLUE Institute that focused on the District’s dedication to fostering an inclusive school community that values diversity and equity. Leaving the seminar was when Hicks knew for sure that he was in the right place.

“I was looking for a district that identified students’ social and emotional needs and understood the struggles that students have coming to school every day,” Hicks said. “I want to be somewhere that wasn’t about just saying things and showing us data, but implementing things that will make me a better teacher.”

He thinks CMSD is the place he's been looking for. Hicks was one of over 200 teachers, all of them either new to the field or new to CMSD, who attended the fourth annual BLUE Institute from July 17-19 at Corporate College East. BLUE, an acronym for build, lead, utilize and engage, is designed to help new teachers learn the ropes of teaching in Cleveland.

Hicks is coming to CMSD after four years of teaching in a district in one of Cleveland's inner-ring suburbs. He’s preparing to take on his job as an intervention specialist for 7th- and 8th-graders at Campus International School.

The session he attended on inclusiveness was led by CMSD’s Director of Culture and Strategy Erica Merritt. She went over the demographics of District teachers and students and the discussed what's called “culturally responsive teaching.”

Merritt talked about the importance of CMSD's efforts to recruit a diverse workforce and to encourage teachers to acknowledge their own biases, approach teaching with a sense of empathy and be able to teach and learn from students of different backgrounds.

In another room, Cleveland Clinic health educator Jane Ehrman met with first-year teachers to address the high rate of teacher burnout and what they can do to build resilience and manage common stress factors associated with teaching.

Many of the other sessions focused on orientation topics, like understanding benefits and compensation, and academic workshops to give the educators time get their hands on their curriculums and learn new classroom strategies.

Aside from the workshops, the teachers heard from speakers from both inside and outside the District, including H. Richard Milner, director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and CMSD Chief Academic Officer Michelle Pierre-Farid.

Pierre-Farid talked with the teachers about how meaningful their roles are in the education and well-being of Cleveland's children. She also assured them there are plenty of people and resources available to support them.

“It’s important for you to know that we at CMSD believe that you can grow as a teacher and grow as a learner in this organization,” she said.

With just a few weeks to go before the new school year, many teachers said the BLUE experience made them feel excited, inspired and anxious to set up their classrooms.

Rachel Harbert, who will be teaching art at Adlai E. Stevenson, said the event gave her new ideas about getting families involved in their children's schooling.

“It gave me a better sense of the kind of students I’ll be teaching and about involving the families as part of a community classroom,” she said. “I hadn’t thought about that before.”


Joe Gould is an Ohio native who returned to the state after working in Arizona schools for four years. He’s going to be teaching music at Paul L. Dunbar and H. Barbara Booker schools.

“I’m just excited to get started,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot more and being the best teacher I can be for the kids."