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A Community Success Story: Cleveland Academy of Leadership

In a remarkable transformation from a chronically low-performing school to achieving a multifold increase in student proficiency on state assessments and climbing from “unsatisfactory” to “excellent” on the South Carolina State Report Card, The Cleveland Academy of Leadership has emerged as a beacon of hope and excellence in education.

The Cleveland community celebrated with two special events on October 16, 2023 – the dedication of Voyager Park at the entrance to Cleveland’s campus, in honor of Northside citizens whose vision has propelled Northside and Cleveland growth over the last decade, and a school-wide gathering to acknowledge the school's outstanding accomplishments. Joining in the events were numerous community leaders from partner organizations, parents, and school district administrators and Trustees. Following the morning events, Cleveland’s students enjoyed a day of fun activities to recognize the hard work and determination that led to their academic growth.

Cleveland student hosts at the celebration  the celebration in progress  Principal Marquice Clark announces the report card rating  event program

Located in the heart of Spartanburg’s Northside community, Cleveland has faced numerous challenges as a Title-I school with a highly transient student population (67% of current students have transferred into Cleveland at some point since their kindergarten year) and a poverty index that long held steady at 95% but has recently decreased to 85%.

While these obstacles to student achievement are significant, they have been met with a united front of unwavering determination from staff, students, and parents – coupled with a large-scale community effort to provide support and resources that enhance the school’s programs and operations.

Cleveland’s educators became among the first in the nation to comprehensively embrace and implement “Continuous Improvement,” a science that helps organizations build a shared understanding about how their systems work, where breakdowns occur, and what actions can be taken to improve overall performance.

Under the leadership of Principal Marquice Clark since 2019, Cleveland’s team dedicated itself to providing a world-class education to every child by implementing innovative teaching methods, focusing on learning data, and fostering a nurturing environment that empowered students to reach their full potential, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The school’s continuous improvement strategies were fueled by investment and partnership from numerous Spartanburg citizens and organizations as well as the school district.

As a result, the percentage of Cleveland’s students who have become proficient in state math standards over the last five years increased from 21% to 54%, proficiency in reading increased from 12% to 47%, and proficiency in science increased from 7% to 55%.

Student academic growth chart  Osmar Chantres and Brael Nchinda, student hosts  Logan Moss, student speaker

Among the many key community partners helping achieve these outcomes are the Northside Development Group, Spartanburg Academic Movement, First Presbyterian Church, and The United Way of the Piedmont. Additionally, the Cleveland Opportunity Foundation was formed as a 501(c)(3) in 2021 to increase accessibility to the arts, sports, extracurricular opportunities, and community-based learning; and to help meet the basic needs of students and families that are necessary for a positive academic experience.

“Not only has Cleveland Academy consistently improved its academic performance with standardized test scores reaching new heights, but our commitment to excellence has had a positive impact on both our students and the entire Northside community,” said Principal Clark. “Today, The Cleveland Academy of Leadership stands proudly as a symbol of resilience, determination, and academic achievement. Our success validates the belief that every child, regardless of their background, has the potential to succeed with the right opportunities and support. We are committed to continuing our journey of academic excellence and providing our students with the best education possible."

Northside Voyagers pose with new sculpture  Voyager Park plaque

The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) supports Cleveland Academy of Leadership as part of its Four Schools Project and works directly with the school on continuous improvement. On Wednesday, October 18, SAM presented Cleveland Academy with its John T. Wardlaw Excellence in Continuous Improvement Award and announced Marquice Clark as Continuous Improvement Coach of the Year at a gathering of approximately 250 community leaders attending the Wardlaw Institute for Continuous Improvement Summit. “The Spartanburg Academic movement is elated with Cleveland’s success and proud to have partnered with them over the last several years,” said Dr. Russell W. Booker, SAM Chief Executive Officer.

Cleveland's principal and assistant principals  district and school leaders  students celebrate during announcement

Reflecting on the years-long journey that led to this historic moment, and the celebrations unfolding throughout this week, District 7 Superintendent Jeff Stevens shared, “This is truly a community success story. This is an example of what is possible when a community surrounds a school with support from every direction, when a district is willing to think differently about supporting the ideas and needs expressed by our teachers and administrators, and when effort is made to remove the barriers to learning that exist for many children in our community. The Cleveland community is doing whatever it takes, whether that means providing free laundry equipment, feeding students dinner, teaching families about saving and investing, helping parents learn how to support their children’s education, or countless other efforts that directly respond to student needs. We also recognize it is what happens inside the classroom that sparks learning and excitement within our students. Cleveland’s teachers and staff believed this transformation was possible, and they united in committing themselves to building a continuous improvement culture. They are the magic within Cleveland Academy, and we are deeply appreciative of the value they bring to District 7.”


PHOTO CREDITS: Alex Hicks of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and Spartanburg School District 7