Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders, Ph.D. accepted the position of Cleveland Public Schools superintendent last Friday after Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson approved the Cleveland School Board’s decision on Thursday to offer Sanders the post.
Two weeks ago, two teams from Cleveland visited the cities of the two finalists for the superintendent’s post last week to see first-hand the impact the candidates have had in their current positions.
The team that came to Toledo held a press conference on March 24 and indicated that they had observed nothing that would lead them to change their minds about the presumptive first choice.
Cleveland School Board President Larry Davis, school board member Gladys Santiago, and the City of Cleveland interim Finance Director Sharon Dumas spoke with Toledo Public Schools staff and principals, leaders of the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT), and business and community leaders. They were not disappointed in what they heard.
“Dr. Sanders interviewed very well in Cleveland,” said Davis. “Many of those perceptions were validated. It was good to see or hear about his interaction with students.”
Dumas, in describing what the team heard from Toledoans, said “we got depth and dimension to the perceptions we had.” The team, said Dumas, was impressed with “his leadership and his solid rapport with everyone.”
When asked what Francine Lawrence, president of TFT, had to report about the Toledo superintendent, Davis replied “the TFT leader says [Sanders] does what he says he’s going to do—there’s a level of credibility he has with the union here.”
Sanders was vying for the Cleveland position with Nancy McGinley, chief academic officer of the Charleston, SC district. A separate team went down to Charleston to see McGinley in action and to speak with people in that city.
The Cleveland team indicated at that time that they expected to get together with the full board and extend an offer, contingent on the approval of the mayor of Cleveland, to either Sanders or McGinley in the first several days of April.
Cleveland has had a mayor-controlled school system for the past several years and the mayor, as such, has final say over such personnel decisions. The Cleveland school board members are appointed by the mayor.
Apparently the results of the visits prompted the board to step up its timetable and vote on the recommendation in advance of their predetermined timetable.
According to the Cleveland team, they did not expect the mayor-controlled school system to present an impediment for any candidate who had to decide whether to accept the post. Quite the opposite, said Santiago. The candidates, she said, had indicated in their interviews that they welcomed such a system because it demonstrated that the city government and the school board were on the same page.
The Cleveland team also noted that if they did indeed offer the position to Sanders, they would expect him to accept. “He has given us every indication that he is interested,” said Davis, “and I’m confident that if he is offered, he will accept.”
Sanders is in the middle of his sixth year as superintendent with TPS. During his stewardship, the Toledo district has risen to unprecedented heights of achievement as measured by the Ohio State Proficiency tests and the federal adequate yearly progress standards. Toledo was the first large urban district in Ohio to move into the continuous improvement category.
Among the innovations Sanders has championed are the development of community/charter-like schools such as the Old West End Academy and Grove Patterson, single-gender academies—Stewart and Lincoln—and the Early College High School where students can earn an associate’s degree while they complete high school.
Nevertheless, during Sander’s time in office, there have been persistent criticisms of the district’s performance by watchdog groups. Sanders tendered his resignation shortly after the recent school board election when two candidates endorsed by the most vocal of these groups, the Urban Coalition, prevailed.
Sanders and McGinley are the two finalists to fill the position occupied by former Cleveland CEO Barbara-Byrd Bennett, who was praised by Davis for what she had accomplished during her time at the hem of the district. “We need to find someone to take us to the next level,” said Davis.
Byrd-Bennett was paid a salary of $278,000. That figure has been a source of discontent in Cleveland and considered a liability during the city’s efforts to get levies passed by the voters. The Cleveland team would only say that they had not discussed salary with the candidates. Sanders has a total compensation package of $194,000 in his current position.