Jackson calls on Board of Education restore confidence in schools
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, January 2006) At a two-and-a-half hour meeting with the Cleveland Board of Education on Saturday, December 10th, Mayor-Elect Frank Jackson made it clear that education will be at the top of his administration’s agenda. Jackson said that education was the number one issue people talked to him about during his campaign. Jackson told school board members that even citizens who told him they would not vote for a school levy asked him “what are you going to do about the schools?”
“Education is probably the most important issue to everyone, “said Jackson. He noted Clevelanders have lost confidence in the school system. He said the loss of confidence is reflected in families leaving the city for other school systems and families staying in the city sacrificing to pay for tuition at private schools. He predicted that restoring confidence in the public school system would result in 100,000 more people choosing to live in the city of Cleveland.
Jackson said our survival as a region depends upon having an educational system that is second to none. “We have to raise the bar to excellence. Accept nothing less,” Jackson told the Board of Education. Then he raised the question to board members, “What are we going to do to make it happen?”
Jackson said Board Chair Lawrence Davis told him this was a good board going through a very difficult time period and requested that he not go forward with asking for the board members’ resignations as mentioned during the campaign. Jackson told board members he knew by law he couldn’t force their resignations. (Baring resignations, Jackson’s first opportunity to appoint new board members will come in 2007) Jackson said his intension was to send a message “This is a new day. We should have new expectations.”
Jackson shared his philosophy on how to create institutional change. He said, “I don’t believe if you make structural change you will get the desired outcome. You first must decide what change is needed, then you back into the structure needed.”
Jackson urged the board to assess the school system “to look at where children are, and what we need to do to educate them at the point of excellence.” School Board Chair Davis indicated that, at Jackson’s request, data gathered as part of a Great City Schools study would be gathered for each individual school, rather than just for the district as a whole. Davis said CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett agreed to produce an individual educational plan for each school in the district. “We will come up with a plan for each city school. It will help us to determine why we have success in some schools and not in others,” said Davis.
Jackson called on the board to “retool the system and reallocate resources to remove those impediments.” Jackson noted the necessity of reallocating resources to accomplish this goal. “It is very unlikely in the near future to get any more money, particularly from local taxpayers. We must do better with what we have.”
Calling on the board of education to set short-term goals and objectives, Jackson said as mayor he intends to be held accountable by the public for the school system’s progress.
Jackson asked for the board to produce results that are reflected in the actual performance of children, not just public relations. Graduation rates should reflect quality, not just quantity. “If you give people quality, they will come back to us,” said Jackson.
“This is pass or fail, “ he said to the board. “I’m not going to be in your business… I’m just going to hold you accountable. I do intend to exercise my authority and rights (to appoint new board members) in 2007, and it will depend upon whether I get a pass or a fail.”
Jackson also promised that his administration would do “intense lobbying for our children downstate.” Jackson said his administration would include a governmental affairs staff person who would interact with the cabinet and elected officials around the state, with education the number one priority in these discussions. “We have a state that has demonstrated by its actions that education, particularly education in urban areas, is not its priority, “ he said. Jackson said he would join in an effort by Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman to shape an urban agenda and push the agenda as part of the upcoming race for governor of Ohio.
He promised his administration would include a cabinet level education position that would serve as a liaison to the board of education. The cabinet member’s “job will be to know what you are doing and whether you are succeeding,” Jackson told the board. In addition, Jackson said he and School Board Chair Lawrence Davis intend to meet weekly. Responding to a request by School Board Member Louise Dempsey for more frequent meetings with the Board of Education, Jackson indicated that if requested he would occasionally meet with the board.
While the city of Cleveland may not have funds to fully staff an education department, Jackson promised that other city departments would “provide technical support and resources” to the education cabinet member. For example when legal expertise is needed the law department would provide resources. The recreation department would look work with the cabinet member to explore expanding the use of schools as community assets, said Jackson.
Board members and Jackson also took time to dialogue about a number of current issues facing the schools.
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