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Two Cleveland Metropolitan School District board members step down

CMSD Vice Chair Leah Hudnall, third from right, and board member Denise Link announced June 14, 2024, that they will be stepping down from their positions.
Conor Morris
/
Ideastream Public Media
File photo of a Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education meeting on February 13, 2024. CMSD Vice Chair Leah Hudnall, third from right, and board member Denise Link announced June 14, 2024, that they will be stepping down from their positions.

Two Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education members, including the vice chair, announced on Friday they'll be stepping down, one after 17 years in the position and another after two.

Vice Chair Leah Hudnall, who was appointed by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb in 2022, and Denise Link, who's been on the board since 2007, said in a June 14 press release that they're resigning due to changes in their professional responsibilities.

“Although I must resign from the Board of Education after 17 years of service, as my professional work responsibilities and travel have increased to the point that I can no longer devote the time necessary to serve effectively on the Board, I am honored to have served the students and families of Cleveland since 2007," Link said. "I look forward to continuing to support the school district and board leadership as a champion of public education in our city.”

Link, a vice president at PNC Bank, had served on the board through three different CEOs — and one interim CEO — including former CEO Eric Gordon and current CEO Warren Morgan. She also worked through the implementation of the Cleveland Plan, which instituted several reforms at the district level and across the city's education landscape. She was also board chair from 2009 to 2017.

She said the Cleveland Plan lead to improvements in student achievement, and it required many different partners working together across the city.

"That was a big sea change. I mean, we had the whole community involved," she said. "We had to go to the state to get law changed in order to enact it."

Link said student absenteeism and student achievement — which both have suffered since the pandemic — are key issues she believes the district will need to focus on in the coming months and years, and said she was confident Morgan and his team will do so.

Hudnall, an assistant professor of practice at Cleveland State University's School of Urban Affairs, has a young son who attends CMSD, is a graduate of the school system and was Bibb's first appointee to the board.

“After careful consideration, I have decided to resign from the Board of Education to pursue new opportunities that will align with my long-term career goals," she said in the press release. "I’m grateful to have served alongside dedicated education champions. During my time on the Board, I have been passionate about elevating the voices of students, parents, alumni, and the community. My family has been connected to the District for generations, and I will continue to advocate for high-quality education for every child in Cleveland."

She added that she "remains supportive" of the mayor and schools CEO and looks forward to supporting the district's bond issue and operating levy on the ballot this fall.

Hudnall said she's proud of the work the board did during her service, including increased transparency measures with the CEO search in 2023, which included livestreaming final candidate interviews.

"The district will persist in navigating and leading in the face of challenges that many public school districts across the state and the nation are encountering," she wrote in an email. "In Cleveland, I believe there is a particular opportunity to further strengthen connections with the community, including parents/caregivers, alumni groups, and neighbors, and involve them more in the work happening in the district. I know that this is a top priority for the Board and Dr. Morgan."

Board Chair Sara Elaqad thanked them for their service to the school district.

"It has been an honor to work alongside them on behalf of Cleveland children and families. They will be sorely missed. We will work closely on next steps and timelines to fill the vacancies created by their departures," Elaqad said.

In the past, when board members have resigned, the city and school district have sought applications. A volunteer nominating panel vetted them and made recommendations to the mayor. He then made the final decision.

Updated: June 18, 2024 at 10:35 AM EDT
Additional comments from Vice Chair Leah Hudnall have been added to this story.
Corrected: June 17, 2024 at 1:45 PM EDT
Board member Denise Link is a vice president at PNC, not Key Bank as was initially written. The story now also includes additional comments from Link.
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Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.