Member Spotlight from May 10, 2018
Derek Cluse had a thriving career in corporate America but felt pangs of dissatisfaction. After successful tenures with General Dynamics, General Motors, and Rockwell Automation, Cluse came to a realization: “I did not want to devote my life to developing shareholder value. It didn’t speak to me.” He moved on to work in small growth-oriented companies as a chief financial officer.
“My first CFO position was an incredible experience,” he says. “At 32 years old, I was a CFO for a multi-million dollar company that was experiencing tremendous growth, and yet something was missing. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew that I still hadn’t found what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
While serving on the board of directors for a private school, Cluse was tasked with developing a financial plan to convert the school into a community (charter) school. A year later, he joined the school as chief financial officer.
“I spent six years in that role and helped to develop and operate a network of charter schools. During that time, I discovered what I needed to understand about myself. I needed to know my ‘why,’ and I found it during that six-year stint as a charter school operator, Cluse says. “My work was directly influencing the lives of young underprivileged urban youth whose only real opportunity to get out of poverty was by getting a high-quality education.”
After serving as chief operations Officer in a public school district for three years, he moved on to Hudson City Schools, one of the highest performing suburban school districts in Ohio. Cluse worked in Hudson for more than eight years and in early 2018 took on the role of deputy CFO at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District is the second largest school district in Ohio, with the highest poverty rate in Ohio. Cluse says he was “compelled by my ‘why’ to pursue the opportunity and was fortunate to get the job.”
Cleveland has a current enrollment of approximately 39,000 students. It consists of 65 Pre-K—8 schools, 39 high schools, and two specialized learning needs centers. Fifty-four percent of children in Cleveland live below the poverty line. In 2012 the Cleveland community united around Mayor Frank Jackson’s release of the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools. That summer, the Ohio legislators passed House Bill 525 and Governor Kasich signed the Cleveland Plan into law. “I am looking forward to working with the team at Cleveland Metro to implement the Cleveland Plan,” Cluse says.
Over the course of Cluse’s work in the school business field, he has found great value in the resources made possible through ASBO International. Cluse recommends those just beginning their school business careers take advantage of the vast opportunities to get involved.
“During the early stages of your career, you will benefit greatly from receiving the professional development and making new connections with SBOs who are dealing with the same challenges you are,” he says. “But it’s also important that you pay it forward by contributing your time in what is a member-driven organization by serving on committees, volunteering to present at conferences, and pursuing leadership opportunities.”
“I am a part of a network of school business officials who care about the work they are doing to improve schools throughout the nation and world in terms of implementing sound business practices, leadership development, and information sharing.”