Foreword: Pathway to Success – Citizens Leadership Academy

Citizens Leadership Academy (CLA) is preparing Cleveland middle schoolers for success in high school, college, and life—and not just academically. CLA, whose population is 79 percent economically disadvantaged and made up almost entirely of students of color, is second among all public schools in the city on student growth. The school’s eighth graders reach and surpass proficiency at a rate that is more than three times that of their peers across the city. Reading and math proficiency rates at CLA are more than double those of Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s.

No matter how you slice the data, CLA is providing academic preparation that would likely be unavailable to them if the schools—and its broader high-performing charter network (Breakthrough Schools)—did not exist. And yet its academic prowess is just the tip of the iceberg.

The school’s model—as captured in its name, Citizens Leadership Academy—prioritizes and cultivates broader attributes and mindsets necessary for long-term success. As you’ll read in this profile about one student, Keith Lazare Jr., CLA asks students to consider what it means to be active, engaged citizens and community members. Students are asked to grapple not only with tough math problems or reading passages—strengthening the stick-with-it-ness known in education circles as “grit”—but also to develop a sense of responsibility, ownership, and persistence in all aspects of their character. And this is not done in top-down fashion, either. Instead, CLA’s leaders and staff have created an environment where students advocate for themselves. These are skills that will no doubt serve them well in high school, college, professional and personal relationships, job interviews, board rooms, and beyond. CLA cares as much about empowering students and helping them hone their voices as it does about high test scores. This is a testament to their commitment to their students’ lifelong success as well as to the school’s deep understanding of what it takes to lift students in poverty and propel them toward the success they so deserve.

We invite you to read Keith’s story and see for yourself how good charters like CLA are good choices for students in Cleveland and across Ohio.

Jamie Davies O'Leary
Jamie Davies O'Leary is former Senior Ohio Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.