Cleveland Schools are on the upswing

Eric S. Gordon is a 2018 Cleveland Smart 50 honoree and Impact award winner.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District is riding a wave of momentum heading into the 2018-2019 school year. The graduation rate has risen in the past seven years from 52 percent to 72 percent in the 39,000-student district, the fastest growth rate among urban school districts in Ohio, says CMSD CEO Eric S. Gordon.

“That’s what people expect when they send their kids to school,” says Gordon, who has overseen this rise in performance since becoming the district’s CEO in 2011. “Your child can graduate and can go on to college and then a career. So I’m really proud of that. I’m also really proud we’ve been able to improve the public trust and faith in the district.”

District builds momentum
Gordon, together with Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and leaders in business, philanthropy and education, successfully lobbied Ohio legislators in 2012 to pass The Cleveland Plan, a revolutionary package of education reform legislation that was signed into law on July 2, 2012.

A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Gordon helped the district pass a tax issue for the first time in 16 years, a renewal of the tax increase and a bond issue renewal that will allow for the construction of new schools.

“The single most important leadership trait from my perspective is to identify great people to do the work and then invest deeply in making those great people even better,” Gordon says.

Passionate about students
While Gordon is proud of the staff he has built and nurtured, his real passion is spending time with the district’s key customers: the students.

“We’re a really unique industry in that we get to work with 39,000 kids,” he says. “I know several of our kids personally. I’ve mentored our kids and I get to celebrate at graduations. It’s one of my favorite times of year. I routinely am able to visit half a dozen to a dozen graduations. I get to be in classrooms with our youngest learners and be down on those carpet squares with them.”

Gordon became CEO following the retirement of Eugene Sanders. Gordon says Sanders has played a big part in his growth as an educator.

“He chaired my master’s thesis and I came to Cleveland to work for him,” Gordon says. “A lot of the things I’m able to do are based on what I learned from or the conditions he put in place while he was here in Cleveland. He’s a huge mentor for me.”