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Work begins on programming for new John Marshall

About 40 volunteers went to work Monday on one of the knottiest problems facing CMSD and urban districts across the country.

How do you take the traditional large comprehensive high school and make it personal, effective and relevant to the 21st Century?

Representatives of the District, philanthropy, business and higher education met at the offices of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, a metropolitan chamber of commerce, to begin shaping programming for the new John Marshall Campus. The CMSD contingent consisted largely of teachers at John Marshall High School.

The high school will be reborn as the campus in a new building this summer, with three small schools under one roof – one focused on engineering, another on information technology and another on civic and business leadership.

“We want to harness from you ideas on how to make the John Marshall Campus absolutely excellent,” Christine Fowler-Mack, the District’s chief portfolio officer, said in opening the meeting. “We want our schools to be engaging for our students. We are really depending on you to push our thinking.”

Fowler-Mack oversees a menu of school options called for in The Cleveland Plan, a blueprint for education reform in the city. The “portfolio” includes new, creative school models that began springing up in 2006, six years before The Cleveland Plan went into effect.

This year, the collection incorporated the first elements of a “replacement strategy.” Developed with $3 million from the Carnegie Corporation, JFK E³agle Academy and PACT (Problem-based Academy of Critical Thinking) opened with ninth-graders and eventually will share John F. Kennedy High School.

The goal is to replace failing, or in John Marshall’s case, underperforming, schools and produce graduates who are ready for college and modern careers.

To underscore the importance of the task ahead, Monday’s meeting opened with a video that raced through the blur of the new economy: the proliferation of job classifications that didn’t exist in the past, a rapidly expanding reliance on technology and an Internet-driven explosion of information.

Ann Mullin, senior program manager for education at the George Gund Foundation, then broke down The Cleveland Plan, which calls for increasing the number of high-performing traditional public and charter schools, transfer of authority from the central office to individual schools, ensuring accountability through the Cleveland Transformation Alliance and investing in “high-leverage” reforms that usher children from preschool to college and career.

The volunteers divided into three subgroups – one to design each of the John Marshall schools. The subgroups will meet up to four more times as they work out details like partnerships with neighborhood companies, school hours and the “student experience.”

“The job of this group is to build schools,” Mullin told the larger gathering. “What do they look like?”

Joseph Micheller, the District’s executive director of new school development, put it a different way: “We’re looking at the education of the future.”