During a City Club Cleveland lunchtime gathering in the Renaissance Hotel’s grand ballroom on Wednesday, September 21, many of Cleveland’s most influential civic and educational leaders reached for their nicely pressed napkins, dabbing away tears as long-time Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon delivered his final State of the Schools address.
Gordon, who has served CMSD for over 15 years — 11 as CEO — recently announced his decision to resign at the end of the 2022-23 school year, continuing the new season of leadership across the city. “But I’m not planning to have a year of goodbyes,” he noted, making it clear there would be no slowing down during his final year of leadership.
Highlights of the “look back” over Gordon’s accomplishments included the recognition that when he was promoted into this role, CMSD was in a state of fiscal emergency and at risk of a state takeover, with a 56% graduation rate. The District has progressed to an 80% (pre-pandemic) graduation rate, an achievement made possible through the bold partnerships of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance and the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools.
With a solid 5-year financial forecast, Cleveland students will continue to benefit from college access through the innovative Say Yes Cleveland program, career readiness through the new Planning and Career Exploration, or PACE program, and a renewed commitment to our youngest learners through the PRE4CLE program. Cleveland is well-positioned as a leading urban school district in Ohio.
Borrowing from former President Barack Obama, Gordon compared good leadership to the synchronicity and collaboration of a relay race. “Winning a relay race requires far more than simply running. It requires that the entire relay team see the finish line and that each member is not only prepared for their run, but also for when and how the baton is passed.”
The time when that happens, when both runners are at full speed, is called the exchange zone. “CMSD has reached our exchange zone,” said Gordon. “The conditions of the District are such that, as we look intentionally ahead, it is clear that now is the precisely right time to carefully plan for a successful handoff to the next leader of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. It’s time to pass the baton.”
In addition to three standing ovations, Gordon’s speech inspired some meaningful questions and words of appreciation from students, parents, and community members. The CMSD Parent Ambassador program and student advocacy were two points of pride for Gordon. He repeatedly encouraged students to hold their new CEO accountable and to tell District leadership about the programs that are important to them.
Meghann Marnecheck, Cleveland Transformation Alliance executive director, shared, “It was bittersweet to know we were hearing CEO Eric Gordon’s final State of the Schools. Many people, like me, walked away from today’s speech wanting to help ensure we sprint toward the baton exchange, empowered by his relay race analogy. CMSD is primed for even more progress. The Transformation Alliance is here to continue sharing information, data, and resources with Cleveland families” to continue Gordon’s work.
Like Marnecheck, many Clevelanders took to social media before, during and after the event with words of hopefulness and appreciation: