Best Practices

Mayor Michael R. White

Cleveland School/Community Covenant

Cleveland School District figures show that of all the students from the 1990-91 eighth grade classes (4,991), only 33 percent actually graduated from high school in 1995 -- and, more alarmingly, only seven percent graduated at grade level -- that is, having passed the 12th grade proficiency test. Clearly, continuing performance at this level can have catastrophic consequences for the future of any city: availability of skilled workers, their lifetime earning potential, the leadership pool, and even the most basic attributes of good citizenship in a democracy can be severely compromised. Faced with this, no responsible public official can characterize education as someone else's problem.

Although his is not the primary responsibility, Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White has long recognized the vital importance of the Cleveland Public Schools to the overall health of the city. Throughout his tenure he has used the influence of his office to work for the benefit of the schools -- from identifying and supporting highly qualified School Board candidates to encouraging support from the business community. In his State of the City address in early 1996, the Mayor placed great emphasis on the needs of the school district. He emphasized the importance of placing children first in the solution of the district's problems, pointing out that an intense focus on the needs of children -- to the exclusion of politics, unions, and personal egos -- was the vital starting point if efforts to bring about change were to be successful. Mayor White articulated nine points -- areas where efforts are needed and where total citizen involvement at all levels will be required. While pointing out steps required of the schools, he made it clear that the problems in the city's schools are not exclusively the responsibility of the school administration and board.

In mid-March a Memorandum of Understanding between Cleveland Schools Superintendent Richard A. Boyd and Mayor White was issued. The agreement creates a Cleveland School/Community Covenant which will articulate goals and objectives, delineate implementation strategies, and describe the roles and responsibilities of the school system, the city and the community to address successfully Cleveland school reform in a coordinated and comprehensive way. The memorandum calls for restructuring the existing Cleveland Summit on Education so that it can coordinate and oversee the process. It also establishes a three-phase time line for accomplishing specific goals within the system. It pledges the presentation to the public by August 15, 1996 of a Cleveland School/Community Covenant document which will include a comprehensive strategic implementation plan. That plan articulates goals and objectives, describes actions to be taken, and defines the expected role and actions of the school system, the city and the community. The Covenant will focus on nine areas of concern and in each will identify points for immediate action as well as long-term goals. Beginning in April, work teams and task forces started a series of meetings to identify problems and approaches to solutions. The Mayor, personally, will be involved, as will City administrative personnel, and the city has agreed to take the lead in identifying and supporting innovative programs to improve school safety and will facilitate regular communication between police commanders and principals of schools.

The problem is huge, complicated, and daunting. Mayor White understands that he cannot stand aside and allow the schools to struggle unaided. As he said in his State of the City address, "if that abandonment [of the children] continues, Cleveland cannot and will not be saved. If we don't fix the Cleveland Public School System and give these children a better chance at life, this town has no future."

Contact: Martha Newberry, Assesment and Accountability Office, (216)561-6574

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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