Investing in the Future of Our Community

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It’s no stretch to say that Cleveland’s future rests on our schools’ ability to educate students and prepare them for success. We recognize the community has failed our children in this critical arena, and we all have a moral responsibility to do better. Our education initiative focuses on three high-impact areas:

  • Transforming public education in Cleveland
  • Increasing post-secondary education access for the young people
  • Advocating for changes in state policy to improve student success

Transforming Public Education in Cleveland

What we’re doing: Over the past decade, the Cleveland Foundation has partnered with the George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), the City of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Partnership and others to create a new, high-performing school system in Cleveland. Over time, this work has evolved in three phases:

  1. Creation of Portfolio of Schools:

    From 2006 through 2011, the Cleveland Foundation and The George Gund Foundation joined to create a portfolio of fourteen new CMSD schools that focused on innovation and excellence. These schools operated with significantly more autonomy than traditional district schools, particularly in the areas of hiring, scheduling and curriculum development.

    The schools offered parents and students a wide variety of academic choices, including single-gender schools; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) schools; and a school on the campus of Cleveland State University. These new CMSD schools outperformed their traditional counterparts on almost every measure including student retention, teacher retention and student achievement.

    In addition to investing in new CMSD schools, the two foundations also supported promising new charter schools as well as a new charter management organization, Breakthrough Schools.

  2. Adoption of the Cleveland Plan:

    In late 2011, the CMSD faced a state takeover based on its financial insolvency, stagnant academic progress and dwindling enrollment. In response, Mayor Frank Jackson convened a small group of stakeholders to develop a plan to change this devastating trajectory. In early 2012, Mayor Jackson presented Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools to Ohio’s Governor and legislative leadership. The Cleveland Plan, which built on the strategy and success of the foundations’ portfolio approach, has four major components: 

    • Grow the number of high-performing district and charter schools in Cleveland and close and replace failing schools
    • Focus the district’s central office on key support and governance roles and transfer authority and resources to the schools
    • Create the Cleveland Transformation Alliance to ensure accountability for all public schools in the city
    • Invest and phase in high-leverage system reforms across all schools, from preschool to college and career

The Cleveland Foundation helped draft this plan and advocated successfully for groundbreaking state legislation to put it into effect. Key policy changes included: a performance-based evaluation and compensation system for teachers and principals; the elimination of seniority as the main factor in layoffs; the sharing of local tax revenues with partnering charter schools and quick intervention in failing schools. We also supported the successful passage of a four-year tax levy in November 2012 that would help take the portfolio school concept to scale across the district. This levy is up for renewal in November 2016. 

  3. Implementation of the Cleveland Plan:

Since 2012, the Foundation and partners remain deeply involved in the implementation of the Cleveland Plan. Key areas of focus for the Foundation include:

  • Opening of new CMSD high schools with an emphasis on phasing out failing comprehensive high schools;
  • Redesign of CMSD’s current career high schools;
  • Implementation of new student-based budgeting, talent development and retention, citywide enrollment systems in the CMSD, and portfolio planning process;
  • Creation of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance;
  • Expansion of preschool for three- and four-year-olds, and
  • Development of new charters in high need areas.

These portfolio schools are enrolling increasing numbers of students and, as a cohort, they’re outperforming their traditional counterparts. To learn more, watch this video of innovation in action at the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine on the John Hay Campus.

Increasing Post-Secondary Education Access

An estimated 65 percent of all new jobs require some post-secondary education. Yet, only 59 of every 100 high school graduates will enroll in college within one year and only eight will graduate from college within six years. This low rate can only hold back our city and region in a hyper-competitive world.

What we’re doing: The foundation is targeting three areas:

    • We helped launch the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland in 2011. Led by Mayor Jackson, the compact is a partnership of more than 60 education and community signers committed to improving student rates of college readiness, access, and persistence.
    • We’re supporting the phase-in of a college planning and tracking software program, Naviance Succeed, at all Cleveland high schools. Naviance will help students, families, school staff, and community partners navigate the complicated college exploration and decision-making process.
    • We’ve joined with College Now Greater Cleveland to provide college guidance advisors in every CMSD high school and to create the Top Scholars program, which helps the highest-performing Cleveland students access highly selective colleges that match their interests. Hear four of the Top Scholars tell their stories:

Impacting State Policy

State policy has a big impact on Cleveland’s academic standards, effective teachers and principals, access to resources, and continuity across pre-kindergarten, K-12, and post-secondary systems.

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What we’re doing: In 2005, the Cleveland Foundation joined with other Ohio-based foundations through the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OFG, now Philanthropy Ohio) to develop and advocate for new education policy. 

Through meeting with a diverse group of Ohioans inside and outside the education and philanthropic communities, working groups developed policy recommendations for two priority areas: preparing students for success in the global economy and ensuring quality teaching and effective school leadership.

The working groups outlined 11 action recommendations, 90 percent of which have been fully or partially adopted. Over the past two years we have worked to preserve this progress. Given the new federal law, the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA), which shifts authority back to the state level, the foundation is working with our colleagues to develop recommendations about the implementation of the ESSA in Ohio.

5 Minutes With…Helen Williams

Helen Williams

Program Director for Education

What sparked your interest in education?

Having kids and being faced with selecting schools for them. Living in Cleveland, I had to think very deeply about what my choices were.

What drew you to this position at the Cleveland Foundation? 

I had been contacted by a headhunter for a position at a foundation outside Ohio. I thought, if I could make it in another state, surely I can do the job here in Cleveland, where I’m from. They were looking for someone who could develop a strategy around education, rather than just someone to review proposals. I felt we were at a crossroads with Cleveland’s education system, and it was a great opportunity to be a part of something that could change things.

What is a typical day/week like for you? 

Crazy. Always dynamic – reviewing proposals, working with the CMSD to improve schools, on-site visits, working with other foundations. It’s very fluid and exciting.

What are some of your goals for 2013? 

On the local level, to continue to work with the CMSD and its partners to implement the Cleveland Plan and get the levy renewal passed in November. I’d also like to deepen our college and career access and persistence work. Finally, this year will be critical for influencing Ohio’s implementation of the new federal education law.