How Does the Cleveland Teachers Union Feel About a Teach for America Exec Becoming Bibb's New Education Chief?

click to enlarge Members of the Cleveland Teachers Union gather for a meeting of the Cleveland School Board.
Members of the Cleveland Teachers Union gather for a meeting of the Cleveland School Board.

While the Cleveland Teachers Union, as an organization, is "not crazy about" Teach for America, CTU President Shari Obrenski said she believes the appointment of TFA of Ohio President Holly Trifiro as Mayor Justin Bibb's new Education Chief has the potential to be positive and productive. 

In an interview Wednesday, Obrenski told Scene that she worked alongside Trifiro on the education subcommittee of Bibb's mayoral transition team.

"Though I personally had limited opportunities to interact with her before that time, as part of the team we worked very well together," Obrenski said. "The whole group worked collaboratively to develop recommendations, and if her work continues in that spirit, I think it could be very positive."

Obrenski said that CTU's skepticism about Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that enlists recent college grads as teachers and sends them to some of the country's poorest school districts, is rooted in the fact that, in their view, too many TFAers aren't adequately prepared for a career in education.

"That being said, once a TFAer comes into the district, they become a member and we work with them to help make sure they're as successful as possible," she said. "We've always held the belief that CMSD hasn't historically needed TFA, but that doesn't mean [Trifiro] won't perform well in her new role or that we won't have a productive working relationship."

Trifiro grew up in Northeast Ohio and holds a Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins University. She became the Executive Director of TFA of Greater Cleveland in 2012 and more recently transitioned to a statewide leadership role. She was appointed to the education subcommittee on Bibb's transition team alongside Obrenski, CMSD CEO Eric Gordon, Tri-C's president Alex Johnson and others.   

According to Obrenski, the recommendations of the subcommittee were adopted more or less wholesale by the Bibb administration and now appear in the Mayor's transition report. They include things like convening a Covid-19 education task force, addressing the crisis of mental health in the schools, seeking American Rescue Plan Act dollars and other funding for curricular and extracurricular programs, including universal broadband access, and using the mayor's bully pulpit to encourage school attendance and citywide literacy. 

"We had great discussions and were able to come to consensus about what we thought the mayor's priorities for education should be," Obrenski said.

As for issues not referenced in the report, Obrenski stressed that the pandemic was taking a toll on teachers, many of whom felt more expendable in the second year of the pandemic than in the first.

"There isn't yet a full realization of the stresses they're working under," she said. "They're thoroughly exhausted and running on fumes."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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