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 in the global economy. At the Cleveland Foundation, 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 access to post-secondary education, and advocating for changes in state policy to improve teaching and learning.

Education Initiatives

Transforming Public Education in Cleveland

What we’re doing: Since 2006, the Cleveland Foundation has partnered with the George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and others to create a new, high-performing school system alongside the old. The district and partnering charter schools within this new “portfolio” focus on innovation and excellence. They also offer 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 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.

Where we’re going: The portfolio schools strategy anchors Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, which was introduced by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in February 2012. This strategy has four parts:

  • 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 state legislation to put it into effect. We also supported passage of a 15-mill, four-year tax levy in November 2012 that will help take the portfolio school concept to scale across the district. We will remain involved as key provisions of the plan are implemented, including:

  • A performance-based evaluation and compensation system for teachers and principals
  • Elimination of seniority as the main factor in layoffs
  • Sharing of local tax revenues with partnering charter schools
  • A longer school day and school year
  • Quick intervention in failing schools

Increasing Post-Secondary Education Access

An estimated 65 percent to 80 percent of all new jobs require some post-secondary education. Yet, of every 100 students who enter ninth grade in Cleveland, only 63 will complete high school and only seven will graduate from college within six years. This low education attainment 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 who’ve committed to focus on 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 is a powerful tool to 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 create the Top Scholars program, which provides specialized attention and advice to the highest-performing Cleveland students to widen access to highly selective colleges that match these students’ interests. Hear four of the Top Scholars tell their stories:

Impacting State Policy

State policy has a big impact on what is possible at the local level related to academic standards, effective teachers and principals, access to resources, and continuity across pre-kindergarten, K-12, and post-secondary systems.

OGF Ohio Future Cover

What we’re doing: In 2005, the Cleveland Foundation joined with other Ohio-based foundations under the auspices of the Ohio Grantmakers Forum to develop and advocate for new education policy. OGF’s 2006 report, Education for Ohio’s Future,defined the state’s challenges and recommended five priority areas critical to improving student achievement.

To gather the diverse views of Ohioans inside and outside the education and philanthropic communities, and to build consensus around a reform agenda, OGF solicited feedback on its report in a statewide conference and nine regional meetings throughout Ohio. With the input from these meetings, two work groups of education stakeholders developed policy recommendations for two priority areas: preparing students for success in the global economy and ensuring quality teaching and effective school leadership. The work groups outlined 11 action recommendations, 90 percent of which have been fully or partially adopted. Download the report.

Where we’re going: OGF is updating its 2006 report and its policy agenda. Stay tuned

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 Cleveland Metropolitan School District to improve schools, on site visits, working with other foundations. It’s very fluid and exciting.

What are some of your goals for 2013? 

To work with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and its partners to implement the Cleveland Plan. The voters gave the mayor and district four years to show results. This next year will be critical. I’d also like to deepen our college access and persistence work.