Mary Ronan set to leave CPS with growing enrollment, innovative preschool program launching

CINCINNATI -- Mary Ronan took the helm of a school district in 2008 that was in its 11th straight year of enrollment decline.

The drop continued for the first three years of her tenure before Ronan and her team at Cincinnati Public Schools turned those perennial losses into growing enrollment for five straight years and counting.

That surge was punctuated with district voters overwhelmingly approving new-money school levy on Nov. 8 with 62 percent of voters saying yes. The levy ushers in a new era of publicly funded preschool, making two years of preschool free for children from families that make twice the federal poverty wage or less.

RELATED: Cincinnati Public Schools levy backers thrilled with landslide margin

Ronan chose to leave her perch on a winning streak, announcing Thursday that she would retire on Aug. 1, 2017.

"I am delighted that I'm able to leave the district in sound financial shape and with a great future in terms of being able to expand preschool to help children get off to a great start," she told WCPO. "That will really help break that cycle of poverty."

Her tenure was also marked by the proliferation of Community Learning Centers, which provide extra services to students and their families with the goal of removing barriers to children coming to school ready to learn.

Ronan oversaw the last years of a $1 billion capital spending campaign that replaced or renovated every CPS school, delivering the massive project on budget and on time.

Other key measures like graduation rates, third-grade reading proficiency and students earning college credits all moved in the right direction, too.

RELATED: How Cincinnati's public schools performed since the last tax levy increase

Ronan wasn't able to pull neighborhood schools out of lackluster achievement, with most elementary schools receiving Ds and Fs on state report cards.

But she leaves behind a program designed -- and now better funded -- to improve neighborhood schools by working with parents and teachers to establish specializations at each school.

Seven schools were specialized in the current school year. Cheviot School started a new gifted program; Hays Porter chose a high-tech program; and Chase School started a new arts and culture program, among the seven.

The district plans to add specializations to eight to 10 schools for the 2017-18 school year.

We spoke to district, community and government leaders in the community who have worked with CPS for their thoughts on Ronan's tenure:

Mayor John Cranley: "Under Mary's leadership, Cincinnati Public Schools has become the top-performing urban school district in Ohio and continues to improve every day. I'm glad that my mother (Susan Cranley), as a member of the school board, was able to select Mary Ronan for her position as superintendent. As always, Mom was right and because of Mary, Cincinnati is a better place."

Mayor John Cranley

Stephanie Byrd, United Way of Greater Cincinnati's Success by Six executive director. United Way will oversee the preschool program, distributing money to private, Catholic and charter preschools and overseeing teacher development and fundraising:

"Mary has been a great partner in helping pass the Preschool Promise/district levy. She recognized that the need for preschool goes beyond what the district can provide and supports expansion in community-based preschool programs. She cares about all children in the community.

United Way Success by Six Executive Director Stephanie Byrd

"I would add that the growth of community learning centers under her leadership supports United Way/SuccessBy 6's belief that the success of educating a child goes beyond their academic needs and includes health, social-emotional development and family engagement. She is leaving the district in a very strong position."

CPS Board President Ericka Copeland-Dansby: "Increased enrollment speaks for itself. Her ability to interact with the public, with families and students and other stakeholders was so important.

CPS Board President Ericka Copeland-Dansby

"Mary has built a senior leadership team that is poised to take the district into the future with our Vision 2020 plan."

Greg Landsman, strategic advisor to Cincinnati Preschool Promise:

"Mary has led the district through significant change and improvement, and has always shown a real compassion for the students that CPS serves. (The school levy) was just the latest example of Mary's willingness to put what's best for children and the district first -- and voters responded overwhelmingly in support of our collective efforts."

Cincinnati Preschool Promise Strategic Adviser Greg Landsman

Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Julie Sellers: "She has been in the district for her whole career and she has worked at every level as a teacher, an assistant principal, a principal and in senior management. She has a very good understanding of how the whole district operates. I think that it will be difficult to find a replacement on that.

"She probably knows more employees than most superintendents in the whole United States, and she's very outgoing. That's not common among superintendents."

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