The Search for CEO for Cleveland Schools - Schools Host Community Meetings

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Mon, 11/21/2005 - 22:47.

The Cleveland Schools are hosting a series of meetings to generate input from the community on what they want for a CEO. For a school system not always anxious for public input, this is a great way to start a search process.

The Cleveland School District (CMSD) CEO Search Advisory Committee, created a process for public input, including open meetings and opportunities for recommendations (see, http://schoolceosearch.net for details). The search process is aiming for a report to the Board in early January, with choices and consideration of a CEO in February and March of 2006.

I attended last night’s meeting at the Boys and Girls Club on Broadway Avenue, in the Broadway/Slavic Village neighborhood. The sessions, led by the search committee officials, started with requests for broad input, asking for values, challenges and the professional and personal characteristics that people want to see in a CEO. The public input was far-ranging, with issues stressing school security, meaningful roles for parents, CEO salaries and CEO credibility/integrity (I just want a creative problem-solver, but that’s just my take on things). For the most part, those attending were calm, responsive and sincere, with minimal speech making. In a positive light, I think the meetings identify one of the enduring strengths of the Cleveland school system – a public that recognizes a tremendous history and value in the Cleveland schools, is hungry for progress and willing to give a new CEO the benefit of the doubt, as long as the CEO demonstrates a commitment to education and the public sees improvement.

In the meeting, every idea, big and small, under the sun was raised (as well as a skepticism of new ideas and fads of the day) and, certainly, no CEO can be all things to all people. Even so, public input is important and a sincere and passionate discussion of one of the region’s greatest challenges has to help but contribute to a more understanding and support further down the road, when the schools need voter approval of bonds, levies or elected officials that create a constitutional school funding system.

Public meetings are scheduled on December 4th (6:30-8:30 pm) for Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church (12826 Lorain Ave.) on the Westside or Lee Harvard Community Center (18240 Harvard Rd.) on the east.

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Listening

Kevin, I absolutely agree that public input is critical to a process. Did you get a sense that the issues being raised were actually be listened to? I have seen some things like this be more of a CYA thing, where they can *say* they had public input, but there was never any intention of actually listening to the input. (As you can guess, that experience was not here in NEO, or even this country.)

The Quality of Public Meetings on Cleveland Schools

You're right there are weaknesses to public meetings and at this stage, personally, I am just going to take them at their word, but everyone will have to make their own judgments. Is there a possibility that the information will be dutifully collected, even inputted to a computer somewhere and possibly printed, for review, but then just sit unused? Sure.  Is there a risk that people will say things that cover such a wide span, that it can be used to justify any action taken? Sure. My only response at this point is we really won't know until later down the line when the report is made and candidate interviews proceed.   Until then, public input is a positive thing, because school board meetings, generally, have not been a very open, public friendly place.

There were some very interesting comments from the search firm as well: Confidentiality prohibits the release of the names of people contacted and the names will be protected; the ultimate salary will reflect the size of the district and the current salary of the individual hired, so the salary will be in the $200-300,000 range (which prompted some criticism, as well as some frank acknowledgment about the market); and that the search firm had no instructions from the School Board on what to look for, other than gather information from public meetings.  I didn't think that last point was very credible (the search firm is getting paid a lot and I would hope the Board would tell them what to do), but I'll give them some latitude at this point. 

A school board member and school staff member was present at the forum as well.  The School Board has been a very insulated place, so public input opportunities need to be considered as sincere opportunities…and used.

My experience on this...

I attended two of these meetings and had about the same experience - very positive. I take the committee at its word to respect the interests and viewpoints of the public, because I've had the opportunity to provide some support to their processes. We set up http://schoolceosearch.net for them to collect feedback from the public and I know that the survey responses are being read by the committee members. We are now converting the site into Spanish so insight can even be collected from Spanish speaking citizens. I also know they are video taping each meeting and will make the tapes (disks) available to the public. It is my understanding Cleveland is doing more than any other city ever has to include the public in this process. So, I believe the public has the opportunity to speak out and be heard in many powerful ways - it is up to us to participate in the process.

Good to hear

Norm, Kevin

Good to hear. Just to clarify, I was just asking and I am glad to hear that both of your take aways were positive.

To your point Kevin, I absolutely agree that we won't know until they begin issuing reports, but oftentimes you can get a sense of whether they are "engaged" in the process or going through the motions. What I get from both your and Norm's response was that they were "engaged". Of course, we'll see but it seems very positive at this point.

Good Post by MaryBeth Matthews

As a counterpoint, MaryBeth posted about one of the events that she attended. I don't know if it was the same one you two were at or not, but from what she posted there was only one parent at the meeting. Which, of course, leads MaryBeth to comment:

My hope is that this was not simply a sham forum to appease a mandate for public input, that someone will pay attention to the concerns that were expressed. Wouldn't it be nice if a new mayor and a new district CEO would usher in a new era of communication?

It was a good post about one of the meetings and worth the read.

Thanks for pointing this out

I read through MaryBeth's posting and added this comment:

I attended two of the meetings - at the first, in Mt. Pleasant, there
were probably 25-30 "citizens" - I don't know how many were parents,
etc. At the second meeting, in Arbor Park (10:30 AM on a Saturday),
there were only a dozen citizens, of whom I know several were parents.
When I asked the facilitator why he thought attendance was so low, he
felt the week before Thanksgiving is a tough time to get people's
attention. I know the events were pretty well publicised... they've
been in the PD, flyers went out, and we provided the search committee
with a website to support public participation. That said, I can add I
sent emails to over 1,000 "friends of the community" - area activists,
entrepreneurs, foundation types, academics, non-profiteers, etc. -
asking them to visit the website established to promote the citizen
meetings and gather feedback from the community, where citizens may
submit a survey about their concerns for this CEO search. As you saw,
none of them bothered to attend the meetings (although 100s of parents,
students, school staff and other citizens have filled out surveys and
gotten involved). This is not just about getting parents to show
concern but about getting everyone in NEO who is concerned to
participate in the process. It's not too late - the search site is at
http://schoolceosearch.net, where anyone can join the search mailing
list and fill out a survey offering the search committee insight, and
there are two more community meetings coming up in early December.

Survey at http://schoolceosearch.net

Did you know the Search Advisory Committee had us set up a site for them to collect feedback from the public? It's at http://schoolceosearch.net and they have received lots of great insight - if you haven't already done so, go there and submit your perspectives!