Return to Headlines

CEO urges community to rally around 'Say Yes' (video and photo gallery)




CMSD has made progress under the reforms in The Cleveland Plan but could achieve districtwide success if students no longer faced the barriers that come with poverty, CEO Eric Gordon said Wednesday in his annual State of the Schools address.

Cleveland, second in the nation in child poverty, can level the playing field for disadvantaged students with strategies like those offered by Say Yes to Education, Gordon told his audience of nearly 1,000 at the Huntington Convention Center.

City, county and nonprofit leaders, including Gordon, are seeking to make Cleveland the fourth chapter of Say Yes, a nonprofit that helps communities provide scholarships to fill gaps in covering college tuition.

More important, Say Yes helps align and focus community services so families can thrive and students can stay on track to high school graduation, college or other postsecondary studies and careers.

“What if, instead of focusing on educating children who live in poverty, we choose instead to focus on educating them while simultaneously removing the effects of poverty?” he said.

Before raising the question, Gordon pointed to positive signs found on a new District state report card that was released Sept. 14. Though the District’s overall grades remain low, highlights include:

  • The District’s four-year graduation rate reached 71.9 percent, the latest in a series of record highs for CMSD. The rate is up 20 points in the last six years, the fourth fastest growth in the state during that time and the largest increase among Ohio’s large urban districts.
  • CMSD’s grade in K-3 literacy jumped from an F to a C. Cleveland fared better than 88 other Ohio districts on that measure.
  • The District’s performance index, a composite of all test scores, reached its highest level in 10 years and fell eight-tenths of a percentage point from earning a D.

Individual performances stood out, proving urban children can compete. For example, four high schools – East Tech, Max Hayes, New Tech East and Washington Park Environmental Studies – raised their graduation rates by 8.5 to 12.6 percentage points in the last year alone.

“What if, instead of focusing on educating children who live in poverty, we choose instead to focus on educating them while simultaneously removing the effects of poverty?”
- CEO Eric Gordon

Six schools earned an A in value added, meaning students far surpassed the growth they were expected to achieve in the last year. The group included Clark School, the Cleveland School of Architecture and Design, Glenville High School, New Tech East, Paul L. Dunbar School and the School of One – an alternative program for at-risk students.

But pockets of excellence are not enough, Gordon said. He said Cleveland should work to become the first urban school system in the country to raise achievement across the board.

“Transforming only some of Cleveland’s high-poverty, low performing schools into high-performing schools is not the win as long as other children of poverty continue to lose,” he said. “It will never be a win as long as the conditions that perpetuate economic gaps, achievement gaps and opportunity gaps are not changed.”

Gordon called on the community to rally around the Say Yes effort the same way it supported The Cleveland Plan six years ago.

“Say Yes to the hope, the dream and the goal of being a Say Yes city, where the success of every child – every single child – is the bottom line,” Gordon said.

“We can. We will. We must,” he added. “The children of Cleveland are depending on us.”

In the audience at the convention center were 250 students, representing 24 schools, who attended compliments of corporate sponsors. After the speech, many of them lined up at microphones and put questions to the CEO.

New Tech East senior Jovon Kelley followed up on the talk about Say Yes and said he was impressed with what he heard.

Fellow New Tech East senior Julian Huff asked how CMSD would help other schools make the same kind of progress New Tech has shown. Gordon said the District would try to learn from effective strategies like those at Huff’s school.

New Tech East Principal Kristy Nickerson said she brought two tiers of students with her to the event.

One consisted of seasoned products like Huff who networked easily in the ballroom with community and corporate figures. The others, in 10th grade, are on the rise.

“Some of them are emerging leaders that I’m trying to groom,” Nickerson said. “They need to know about the issues that are impacting their education and their community.”