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Cleveland school district plans staff changes, training and new approaches for 13 'Investment Schools'

July 05, 2013 Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer 

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland school district's improvement plan for 13 schools this upcoming school year will bring major changes for some and smaller, but substantial, ones for others.
Teachers will receive special training at all 13 schools, some of which will get new principals and see significant staff changes. And a few of the schools will have outside agencies come in to give the schools new styles and approaches.

All together, the district is spending more than $2 million this upcoming year on staff training and outside help to try to improve these schools, which the district has labeled "Investment Schools."

"We're looking to have 13 different plans for 13 unique needs," said Eric Gordon, the district's chief executive officer.

More changes are in the works. After the district met with staff, parents and community leaders at each of the schools in May, schools will host additional meetings over the summer to refine the plans.

"There's a lot of moving parts," Gordon recently told the school board. "It will be ongoing through the course of the year."

In the year since Gov. John Kasich signed the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools into law last July 2, the district has carried out several steps to further the plan.

It won passage of the largest school tax increase in recent memory last fall, brought back teachers laid off because of budget troubles and reached a new contract with the teachers union that overhauls the district's pay structure and other rules.

But changes in classrooms that the levy and plan promised have mostly been on hold for the past year while Gordon and other district leaders prepared to roll them out this fall.

The biggest changes will be in the 13 struggling schools the district targeted for investments to make rapid improvement.

Here's the plan for those schools so far:

  • The district is changing principals at 5 of the 13 schools for next year. Teachers and other staff are being changed by varying amounts.
  • Every teacher and administrator at all 13 schools must sign a commitment pledge specific to their school's specific improvement mission or be moved to another school. (Example here.)
  • In all of the Investment Schools, committees of the principal, teachers and parents or community leaders will pick new teachers together. Gordon said that if a committee can not reach consensus on a candidate, it will move on to consider others. 
    That takes more time, Gordon said, but that approach means that everyone has more "buy-in" to the decision.
  • Two high schools, -- Collinwood and Lincoln-West -- will ditch the "small schools" model that had three separate academies operating under one roof. Both will start using the New Tech model that teaches through having students complete projects. The district already uses New Tech in three other high schools.
  • John Adams High School and Carl & Louis Stokes elementary school will work with Cambium Learning Group, a Dallas firm with experience trying to turn failing schools around. All of the teachers at Stokes will be replaced, as was the principal.
  • Some of the 13 Investment schools will have more learning time for students, though the details of how that will happen are not yet set.
  • Two other firms -- the Efficacy Institute and the Center for Transformative Teacher Training -- will come to the district to offer training in teaching methods and in changing the culture of the schools. The Center for Transformative Teacher Training will be paid nearly $900,000 for working at five of the schools -- Anton Grdina, Robert H. Jamison, Luis Munoz Marin, Mound and Kenneth Clement Boys Leadership Academy. The district's contract with the Efficacy Institute is not complete..
  • Nine schools will have what the district is calling an "all-school positive re-start" in which teachers and staff will start promoting a more positive culture.

Michelle Pierre-Farid, the district's chief academic officer, said many of the changes will focus on the school culture and the social and emotional supports that many Cleveland students need.
Along with setting higher educational and behavior standards for students, teachers and staff will have to better communicate those standards and the reasons behind them, instead of just punishing or blaming when students fail to meet them.

And teachers will have to work harder at identifying student strengths and weakness, then help them improve in steps so that students don't give up.

"This is huge, in the sense that we are not just giving people programs," Pierre-Farid said. "We are changing people's way of thinking about the work."

Gordon said that the new contract the district just reached with the Cleveland Teachers Union provides time for training before the school year starts and for ongoing training and staff meetings throughout the year.
He said that training and staff meetings were much harder to schedule in the past without time set aside in the contract for it.

Of the investment schools, the greatest changes will come at Stokes, a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school on East 40th Street. In addition to having a new principal, all of its teachers have been moved to other schools.

Stokes has long been a struggling school, but recent improvements -- it raised its state grade to a D in the 2000-10 school year -- led the district to name it a "refocus" school in the district's original transformation plan, authored by Gordon in 2010. At that point, it did not have to have a total staff change.

Stokes also received a federal School Improvement Grant of more than $450,000 a year for three years.

But for the 2011-12 school year, the school earned an F -- Academic Emergency-- from the state. The 2012-13 scores will be available in the fall.

Pierre-Farid said that the entire staff needed to be replaced this time to give the school a new start.

Cambium will be paid $1.1 million to work with Stokes and John Adams High School for the school year. The district's contract with Cambium calls for it to analyze student data and work with school administrators and staff on new goals, tests, cultural changes and a schedule.

The New Tech model has been used in the district since the 2010-11 school year at two locations -- separate New Tech schools within the East Tech and Max Hayes high school buildings. The East Side school was rated most recently as the equivalent of a C by the state and the West Side school a B.

A third New Tech school started last year that mixed the standard New Tech model of using technology in projects as the basis of learning, with a social justice model called Facing History and Ourselves. That school will receive its first state rating in the fall.

Collinwood and Lincoln-West would give the district its fourth and fifth New Tech schools.

The district is also moving toward another of the Cleveland Plan's goals of giving principals of better-performing schools more autonomy to set schedules and priorities and to make budget decisions for their school. Gordon told the board last month that nine schools will test that change, likely in the 2014-15 school year.

Each of the nine, which will be called "Transformation Schools", have received state ratings of Effective -- the equivalent of a B -- or better for three straight years, he said, and each has to propose a plan to the central office for how they can accelerate improvements if given more control.

Those schools will meet every four to six weeks over the next year to develop plans for the transition.

Another major part of the Cleveland Plan took a step forward recently when the Transformation Alliance, a new panel formed under the plan, started a campaign to inform families about the quality school choices in the city.

The Alliance is highlighting higher-rated schools, both district schools and charters -- privately-run, but free and public, schools. It's also pointing out the poor ratings of other schools, both district and charter, while urging families to choose better schools for their children.
These 13 schools are in the first phase of the Cleveland school district's plan to upgrade academic achievement by turning around low-performing schools. More "investment schools" will be named in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
  • Robert H. Jamison, 4092 East 146th St.
  • Luis Munoz Marin, 1701 Castle Ave.
  • Mound, 5935 Ackley Road
  • Kenneth Clement Boys Leadership Academy, 14311 Woodworth Road
  • Case, 4050 Superior Ave.
  • Robinson G. Jones, 4550 West 150th St.
  • Walton, 3409 Walton Ave.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, 800 Linn Drive
  • Anton Grdina, 2955 East 71st St.
  • Carl and Louis Stokes Central Academy, 2225 East 40th St.
  • Collinwood High School, 15210 St. Clair Ave.
  • John Adams High School, 3817 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
  • Lincoln-West High School, 3202 West 30th St.