CLEVELAND — The leader of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District set an ambitious agenda during his annual State of the Schools address.
Eric Gordon, CEO of the district, said he'll be making a "big bet" on CMSD using money from the American Rescue Plan to fund programs over the next three years. Ohio got $4.4 billion of federal funds through the congressional plan. Cleveland received $511 million of that.
While districts were told the money was best for short-term, pandemic-related issues, Gordon said he sees the money going further.
"The American Rescue Plan by Congress design is a three-year plan. And like Congress, we are thinking about our emergence as a stronger, healthier organization that is living our vision for a bright post-pandemic future over this year and the next two years," Gordon said during the speech at the City Club of Cleveland. "Using our rescue plan funds, we will complete the full conversion to a one-to-one technology district, ensuring every student and educator in the CMSD has the appropriate modern iPad, Chromebook or laptop to meet their anytime, anywhere learning needs."
Gordon also wants to add more health professionals at schools, additional learning hours at the start and end of each school day and turn libraries into community college "hubs" and cyber cafes for students.
Other than his want to use federal dollars, Gordon did not go into details about how district leaders plan to execute these goals. But that's not a surprise. Speeches like these are platforms for overarching ideas and not the day-to-day how-to of the schools.
But when the speech was over, Gordon faced questions from students, teachers, administrators, and parents about the daily progress of CMSD. More than half of the questions for Gordon came from current or former students who attended the luncheon and speech.
One wanted to know less about long-term strategy and more about what could happen in the next few weeks if COVID-19 cases keep rising.
"So COVID is getting worse and COVID is impacting kids now. We have a kindergarten student who's hospitalized right now. We have high school students who are hospitalized right now, and we have staff members that are hospitalized right now. So, it is not just on the news. In our lived reality, it's getting worse," Gordon said at the start of his answer.
He reassured that person the district is doing what it can to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus, including extending the mask mandate from five weeks to nine weeks.
But, he said, virtual learning is not off the table as an option.
"If we have to, we will," he said. "But our goal -- our teachers want to be in class with you. We want to be in class with you."
The district is reporting cases of the virus to the state. The dashboard is updated every Thursday. As of Sept. 16, CMSD reported 136 cases in students so far this year and 45 cases in staff.
Gordon also took a question from the State Board of Education representative Meryl Johnson.
She asked Gordon to comment on two pieces of legislation focused on Critical Race Theory going through the process in Columbus, both of which Gordon called "a scare tactic."
"There is no country in this world that doesn't have awful parts of history in their past," he said. "It's just a fact of the globe we live on. So, if we don't want to teach that history, then what Columbus needs to do is to take American history and world history out of the curriculum, not just the parts of it they don't like. And while they're at it, they have to take American literature and global literature out of the curriculum, not just the pieces they don't like. Now, that sounds absurd because it is absurd. We need to teach a full canon of our literature, a full accounting of our history, the parts that we're proud of and the parts that we are embarrassed by and need to learn from and grow."
Watch Gordon's full State of the Schools Address below: