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Mark Oprea

Monica Rosen, principal of Alma Advisory Group, speaks to about four dozen attendees at the CMSD CEO’s listening session Tuesday at the East Professional Center.

What specific qualities should a CEO of a city school system with 37,000 students possess? What values ​​should he or she protect?

And of course, how can he or she make things better in the next three to five years?

Such questions were scattered throughout East Professional Center classrooms Tuesday night in the first listening session in the months-long process to replace outgoing CEO Eric Gordon. Led by six representatives from Chicago’s Alma Advisory, about four dozen attendees shared their sharp thoughts on what CMSD’s new superintendent should be like in April.

“We know that the best decisions come from the most diverse opinions,” said Lisa Thomas, a member of the Board of Education, in a speech before the focus group sessions. The goal, Thomas said, was to get input from the public, with Alma’s assistance, “to help us build a profile of who the next CEO of the Cleveland School District should be.”

That’s no small task after Gordon’s widely celebrated 11-year tenure.

Inheriting a system on the brink of collapse — and possible state intervention — in 2011, he led CMSD, increasing public trust while improving test scores. From 2011 to 2019, CMSD’s graduation rate jumped 30 percent, according to Cleveland’s plan.

“He took the time to listen and talk to you,” Jessica Boyner, a mother of two with son Damian of Paul Dunbar, said Tuesday. “Like if you say, hey, can I talk to you? “Yes. Let’s set a time.” And he is actually there. He talks to you, he hears you, he comes up with a solution.”

click to enlarge Jessica Boehner and her daughter Seiko at a listening session on Tuesday.  Boehner said she hopes the next CEO will be transparent and willing to listen to parents of children in the district.  - Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea

Jessica Boehner and her daughter Seiko at a listening session on Tuesday. Boehner said she hopes the next CEO will be transparent and willing to listen to parents of children in the district.

Gordon’s knack for transparency seemed to be on the mind of Alma’s team, which just last year helped lobby the Cincinnati community to hire their new superintendent, Iranetta Wright. In five breakout sessions, which were held behind closed doors and without access to the press, each manager, armed with a pad of paper and a marker, emphasized the ideals of transparency in their “safe space” for participants.

And every nonprofit leader, artist, library branch manager, former teacher or principal responded with ideas that Alma Superintendent Monica Rosen said will be presented to the Board of Education on Feb. 7. The report will also be a source of opinions from respondents to an online survey question that will be available to the public until the end of the month.

Such feedback, Rosen said, will be used to “strengthen our interview process” for Gordon’s replacement. The finalists, she added, will be able to meet with community members to “give input” before the council makes the final hire in “early May.”

For Boyner, whose two children, Seiko and Damian, are expected to graduate from CMSD one day, the hope is that the Board’s choice will be close to Gordon himself. Someone, she said, who lives, does the shopping and works in the city. Who is there for feedback.

And she made the switch, ready to expand CMSD’s programs for special needs students like her 9-year-old Damian.

“I need [the new CEO] engage with students with autism,” she said, referring to Damian’s condition. And for children with special needs in general, “Where them additional programs?” Boehner added. “We have all these new programs, but they’re not for them.”

Gordon will step down at the end of the school year in April, eight months after he announced his resignation on September 12 last year.

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