Patricia Hawke for

With a district of 58,000 school age children Cleveland Schools face all of the challenges you expect in a large city: poor attendance, low test scores, and behavior issues. So the new CEO of Cleveland Schools, Eugene Saunders, has decided to address the problems from the top. As a part of his strategy to turn around a struggling district, this former Toledo Schools CEO is sending Cleveland Principals back to school.
At monthly classes principals are expected to gain insight into recent educational best practices, successful business strategies, and better support networks. Specific methods such as a “3-minute walk” to quickly assess a classroom are intended to strengthen principals’ presence, effectiveness and understanding of their schools. In addition to monthly sessions 10 Chicago Schools principals per semester are relieved of school duties for an intensive 3-week immersion course.
While Cleveland Schools have had teacher training for years, the focus on principal training is a by-product of the new CEO’s initiative. Will it have the trickle-down effect he intends? The strategy is being teamed with a nationwide search for new and effective Cleveland School principals. A recent Harvard University program, New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) that is designed to train and provide highly qualified candidates for some of the countries highest risk districts, enforces this.
Other components of Saunder’s plan include $600,000 in grants from the George Gund Fund and the Cleveland Fund to create 6 unique and highly targeted schools. A single gender k-3 school and a residential high school for boys stand out against the public education trend toward co-education.
Educators in Cleveland Schools have debated the benefits of co-ed classes for years. Decades ago the fear was that girls were getting left behind by not being included with the boys. Next came the suspicion that girls in national and Cleveland Schools tended to answer fewer questions and be less assertive in a classroom with male peers. So educators worldwide will watch this experiment closely.
Chicago Schools will also introduce a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) magnet. Magnet programs are also under scrutiny around the country. Large cities like Cleveland originally instituted magnets to promote diversity and voluntary desegregation. Opponents claim they have not lived up to expectations. So the pressure to make STEM and the other innovative schools work returns to the principals of Chicago Schools and their leadership ability. If Saunders’ “from the top” approach is effective then Cleveland schools are poised to show better gains than most inner city schools of this size. The question is, “If the principals lead, will the children follow?”