The Cleveland Schools Lose One of Their Best Minds.


The Cleveland schools recently celebrated some unusually good news. Last year, they scraped their test scores off the bottom of the barrel and met a handful of state standards, earning the district the envious designation of “continuous improvement.” In layman’s terms, it essentially means “you don’t suck quite as much as you use to.” Schools CEO Eugene Sanders, who took over last summer, was quick to credit his team, including Chief Academic Officer Craig Cotner, for the gains. But just as the celebration began, Cotner checked out. He quietly and abruptly resigned this summer, citing “personal reasons” (court records show he and his wife began divorce proceedings last month). And his absence left a gaping hole in the district’s top brass. Sanders brought Cotner with him from Toledo, where they were lauded for raising test scores. After arriving in Cleveland, Cotner was considered one of the best brains in the operation, responsible for getting new books in the classroom and improving students’ reading and writing skills. He was also supposed to shepherd Sanders’ grand plans for the district — including new single-sex schools and the Ginn Academy for young men — on to success. Now, when the new schools open this week, their general will be absent. Sanders’ chief of staff, Pamela Smith, has taken over curriculum duties for the time being. As for a permanent replacement, Ben Holbert, the newly minted communications chief, says Sanders has a “short list” of candidates he’s considering. If none of them work out, he’ll “probably” conduct a national search, and hopes to have the post filled by January 1. All of which means that, just in time for the new school year, it’s chaos as usual at district headquarters. – Lisa Rab


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