Five Cleveland school board members picked for reform effort

(Plain Press, August 2004) Five members of the Cleveland Municipal School District Board of Education have been picked to take part in a major nationwide effort funded by a billionaire philanthropist to reform urban schools.

Saying that America’s public schools won’t improve until school boards do, Los Angeles-based philanthropist Eli Broad will bring new school board members from 10 urban districts together July 24 through July 30 th 2004 for an intense crash program in reform.

“ Cleveland is a very important urban school district, and success there can inspire success elsewhere in America ,” said Broad.

Cleveland Board Members Grady Burrows, Dr. Sherona Garrett-Ruffin, Magda Gomez, Willetta Milam and Gladys Santiago will be brought to Park City , Utah for the unique program. The Broad Institute is paying for all expenses involved in the training.

“I asked these five members of the Cleveland Board of Education to come to the Institute because they care about public education and I know they can be among the leaders of this nationwide effort to improve the way public schools are governed,” Broad said.

Cleveland ’s school board members will join school board members from Atlanta , Denver , Memphis , Long Beach , Providence , Charlotte , Wichita , Anchorage and Christina , Delaware for the program.

The Broad Institute for School Boards is a national training and support program for newly elected and newly appointed urban school board members. Each summer, the Institute conducts an intensive one-week residential learning experience modeled after Harvard University ’s program for new mayors and new members of Congress. Dr. Don McAdams, former board president of the Houston Independent School District and a nationally recognized expert on school boards, leads the Institute team.

Broad, who founded KB Home and SunAmerica Inc., building two Fortune 500 companies from the ground up, has put more than $400 million of his family’s money into the Broad Foundation to help drive reform in urban school districts.

“The American people are tired of excuses. They don’t want to hear school boards complain about not having enough money, or having too many students who don’t speak English, or having too many children from poverty who don’t have good family support. There are already too many apologists for public education out there who really are adding zero to this effort. What we need are heroes, not zeroes. What we need are leaders who will say ‘I don’t care what the obstacles are, we’re going to get the job done, period.’ That’s the attitude that America wants to hear from its school boards,” Broad said.

As the achievement gap between whites and minority students gets wider, and as urban school districts continue to suffer from ineffective leadership, Broad noted, school boards must be radically reformed. “If we don’t deal with the problem of urban education, the results for the American economy may be catastrophic,” said Broad.

The summer, invitation-only Institute, will mark the third time Broad has put new school board members from 10 urban districts through the program designed to “teach new board members early on how to be effective policy and reform leaders – in short, how to stay focused on student achievement,” Broad said.

Broad said there is reason for optimism that the reform effort is taking hold. “This is the third class of new board members we have put through this intense training, and already we’re seeing some results. In more than a dozen urban districts around the country, the focus on student achievement is taking center stage, and we have just begun,” said Broad.

Dr. McAdams, founder of the Center for Reform of School Systems and the managing director of the Broad Institute for School Boards, pointed to the continuing achievement gap as evidence that the quality of urban school boards must improve. Noting a study by the Education Trust, McAdams said the achievement gap is actually getting smaller in school districts where student achievement is the intense focus. McAdams pointed to the Education Trust Report, which shows:

  • The achievement gap between white and Latino students in 4 th grade reading in Arizona would shrink by almost two-thirds if Arizona ’s Latino 4 th graders performed as well in reading as Latinos in New Jersey do.
  • The gap between whites and Hispanics in California in 8 th grade in math would shrink by half if California ’s Latino 8 th graders performed as well in math as Latinos in Texas do.

“Clearly, this notion that poor and minority kids cannot be expected to perform as well as more affluent white kids is wrong,” Dr. McAdams said. “The pockets of progress we see around the country in closing the achievement gap prove it. So it’s time for local school districts to stop using poverty and ethnicity as an excuse for the real problem: a failure of school district leadership to focus on student achievement and get the job done.”

McAdams will lead the summer training program. The program will bring together some of the top leadership in public education to “teach, mentor, and build relationships of trust,” said McAdams. The program will dig into original case studies of success and will put the board members through challenging exercises to focus them on attitudes, knowledge and skills required to govern for student achievement.

Broad and his wife Edythe created the Broad Foundation to dramatically improve K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition. The Broad Institute for School Boards is one of the foundation’s flagship programs.

For more information, contact The Broad Foundation at 310-954-5050 or the Center for Reform of School Systems at 713-682-9888.


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