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District seeks executives' business expertise



Folly Patterson wants to help executives who want to help CMSD.

Patterson, the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Nordson Education Fellow, is assisting the District with projects that further The Cleveland Plan, a citywide blueprint for school reform.

Her work, funded by a two-year grant from the Nordson Corporation Foundation, includes developing a loaned-executive program that will bring a business eye to school operations at no cost to the District.

“This is not about getting labor or an extra set of hands,” said Patterson, who will remain with CLC and CMSD through next April. “There is experience and expertise in the community to help us strategically.”

The loaned-executive initiative was proposed by the LC2 Fellows Class of 2012, made up of alumni of the CLC’s Leadership Cleveland program. Leadership Cleveland seeks engagement opportunities for its participants to help address needs in the community.

A handful of volunteers took on projects in the first year, but Patterson is trying to build a pipeline that keeps the assistance flowing. She is compiling a list of opportunities from the District in areas such as marketing, communications, data analysis, risk assessment and purchasing.

Susan Nelson, a strategic planning and performance improvement consultant, is helping the District “map” connections that will make its 18-month-old Communicate with HEART customer-service program more effective.

Employees throughout the District have been trained in HEART, which was adapted from a model provided by the Cleveland Clinic in one of the first loaned-executive projects. Patrick Haggerty of Frantz Ward LLP, who was an LC2 Fellow, facilitated collaboration between CMSD and the Clinic to improve the District’s interactions with constituents.

Nelson said employees are clearly committed to service, but she will help them eliminate bottlenecks and make information more widely available so people can answer questions when asked.

Nelson was moved to volunteer after hearing schools Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon speak at Cleveland State University in June. The CEO directed her to Patterson.

“You cannot care about Cleveland and not care about the schools,” Nelson said. “It affects and underpins everything – health care, employment, crime, wellness, entertainment and arts. Everything.”

Roslyn Quarto, a Leadership Cleveland alum and executive director of the nonprofit group Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People, also saw an opportunity for her agency to have an impact through the loaned-executive program.

She arranged for Michael Billnitzer, ESOP associate director, to put his organizational development and strategic management skills to work on projects in the District’s human resources, finance and special education departments.

After about 15 years in the for-profit sector, Billnitzer moved in 2009 to ESOP, which helped prevent foreclosure during the recession and now offers housing and financial counseling services.

ESOP expanded statewide with federal and state contracts, and then had to retrench as government funding ran out. Billnitzer went from building a new “human resources infrastructure” from scratch to the strategic long-term planning needed to cope with the loss of revenue.

CMSD can benefit from that gamut of experience, but Billnitzer said he wins, too, giving back for the mentoring and coaching he has received over the years.

“It’s very close to my heart on a couple of levels,” he said. “If it ties into education and benefits future generations, it makes it that much more appealing.”

Executives do not have to come to CMSD through the Cleveland Leadership Center. But Vice President Michael Bennett said the center is spreading the message to the 5,000 alumni of its civic-engagement programs.

“We want to give them opportunities,” he said. “We have access to a highly qualified pool of potential prospects who care about Cleveland and are willing to help.”

Professionals who want to volunteer to work with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District should fill out a form at For further information, contact Folly Patterson at 216-212-9303 or