Cleveland Seeks Move From Zero

By Catherine Gewertz — September 06, 2006 1 min read

Having failed every requirement of its state’s accountability system, the Cleveland school district is mobilizing to improve both its performance and its image.

Eugene T. Sanders

“This district is in need of credibility, and, quite frankly, in need of proving we can achieve an outcome if we lay it out,” said Eugene T. Sanders, who became the district’s chief executive officer July 1.

That’s why he announced on Aug. 18 that his top priority is to move the district up from the fourth to the third category of five state ratings by the end of this school year.

Three days earlier, Ohio had announced that Cleveland was one of seven districts statewide to get the “academic watch” rating. It did not meet any of the state’s 25 standards in 2005-06, but escaped the lowest category because its test scores had improved.

In an address to civic leaders, Mr. Sanders vowed to move the 58,000-student district into the “continuous improvement” category for the 2006-07 year.

The cornerstone of his plan to do that is a new set of “pre-assessments” that will be required three times each year of all children in grades 3 through eight and 10—the grades that take Ohio’s tests.

Teachers will use the results, available within 24 hours, to target help where it’s needed. The learning plans they develop from the tests will also follow students to tutoring sessions they may have with external partners, Mr. Sanders said.

“Instead of sitting around hoping we do well in the spring, we can take some very specific, aggressive steps to customize instruction,” he said last week in an interview.

Joanne DeMarco, the president of the 5,000-member Cleveland Teachers Union, said the district’s financial travails in recent years have slashed the teacher corps by 1,400, making improvement challenging. But she said the union was “on board” with Mr. Sanders’ approach.

“When you are zero for 25, you have no place to go but up,” she said.

The CEO is also calling for more prompt, courteous service at the central office and renewed community support.

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 2006 edition of Education Week