Graduate Student Resource Center

Derrick Holifield, MPA '17

Aspiring Principals

Meet Derrick Holifield whose plans for transforming a school include transforming a neighborhood by creating a Community Learning Center in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. Born and raised in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, Derrick Holifield attended Cleveland public schools and graduated in 2010 from the Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA) where he studied theater arts and was an active poet with Cleveland Playhouse’s SLAMU poetry team.  Holding two part-time jobs, this self-described “average student” was voted president of his CSA class.  After a semester at Howard University with the mounting cost of living in Washington D.C. on a student budget, Derrick transferred to Ohio University.  While there, he abandoned his plans to study business/theater.  Derrick chose a major in English to help him forge an intended path to law school.  A highly-involved undergraduate, Derrick held leadership roles in his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Phi chapter, Student Senate, and many other organizations, all while fulfilling internships at Cleveland law firms as part of the Louis Stokes Scholars Program.  One significant college activity drew him in an exciting new direction toward graduate school and Teach for America. 

Q. What inspired you to become a teacher?

In college, I worked with Teach for America’s Leadership initiative to create a program that brought students from CMSD to Ohio University for an overnight college trip that gave many of them their first exposure to college. Some students enrolled and are now seniors at OU! This experience is what attracted me to teaching. I taught 6th, 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts and Reading Intervention at my former high school. After teaching, I wanted to learn more about the administrative work in CMSD and I accepted a position as a Barrier Breaker supporting 11 principals and the superintendent of CMSD’s Achievement Network. I recently accepted a position with CMSD’s Aspiring Principal Program. I am in the residency phase of the program where I serve as Aspiring Principal at Scranton School.  If I am successful in the program, I will become a principal in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District next year. Holifield is pictured above at work with CMSD.

Q. How do you meet the challenges found in teaching inner city youth?

Right now I am in a program where I am being pushed beyond my limits to bring educational equity to the lives of future Cleveland leaders.  I am in a program that allows me to be a learner as well as a teacher.  I work under an experienced mentor principal to assist with and eventually lead all aspects of running a successful school. In the meantime, I also complete a change project, lead projects/initiatives, and attend professional development throughout the district and beyond.  I became more and more interested in my work with inner city youth as I realized that my education is what gives me the opportunities that I have been blessed with.  I understand that a quality education put me in positions to capitalize on opportunities to impact my family and community. More than anything, I do this work because I could not live with myself knowing so many Cleveland students are not given the opportunity to succeed. A lot of students are burdened by the ills of poverty in their communities. I want to help create that opportunity for as many students as possible.

Q.  Speaking of continuing education, tell us about your graduate school decision.

I really wanted to gain the skills necessary to bring change to my neighborhood. After returning home from college, I realized that things were not getting better for the people who I grew up with. People were struggling to live as poverty continued to burden the people in the city.  I began to see more and more kids struggle with poverty.  I felt that I needed to do something to help people since so many people had helped me in my life.

That something came to me as I searched for graduate degree programs in Cleveland. It was clear that Cleveland State offered what I saw as the most rigorous course list and their approach seemed to be genuinely rooted in equitable solutions to Cleveland’s historical problems.  I felt that the MPA program would put me on a path to create positive change in my neighborhood. I took my first graduate course with legendary city planner, Norman Krumholz, and Midtown innovator Robert Brown. I immediately felt at home and knew that the work I was doing would put me on a path to one day impact my community.  (While teaching full-time, Derrick completed his master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in economic development at CSU’s Levin College of Urban Affairs.)

Derrick Holifield’s capstone project focused on summer programming for CMSD.  He is driven, smart and dedicated to improving lives of inner city kids.  Nicholas C. Zingale, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director, Master of Public Administration, Levin College of Urban Affairs


I learned the true meaning of leadership and how the dangers associated with making people uncomfortable comes at a price that true leaders must be willing to pay in order to create change.  I learned a lot about myself and the difference between preaching about equity and making decisions with equity in mind. It was through this program that I have developed an identity as a public servant. I am optimistic about the future of the great city of Cleveland.

Q.  How has your new master’s degree served you in your daily work?

The program has taught me resilience and dedication.  I understand how complex decision making can be when dealing with the public. Creating public value seemed like a simple concept upon entering the MPA program. I now see that public value is intricate and deserves special attention when decisions are made. I have never felt so passionate about helping such a large group of people until I began research on Community Learning Centers. I am grateful for guidance from my professors and classmates who helped me understand how crucial it is to collaborate when you are trying to create comprehensive solutions to complex problems. Collaborating with my peers was critical to my success at CSU and I gained friends who I now see in professional settings.

I learned the true meaning of leadership and how the dangers associated with making people uncomfortable comes at a price that true leaders must be willing to pay in order to create change.  I learned a lot about myself and the difference between preaching about equity and making decisions with equity in mind. It was through this program that I have developed an identity as a public servant. I am optimistic about the future of the great city of Cleveland.

Q.  You have had a successful start as a middle school teacher.  What else in on your horizon?

After completing tHolifield Crain'she Aspiring Principal’s Program and becoming a school principal, I hope to assist in the efforts of The Cleveland Plan by transforming a school and its neighborhood by creating a Community Learning Center in the Glenville neighborhood. 

Derrick Holifield lives in the same neighborhood that he grew up in, not far from his grandmother and his parents.  Read more about Derrick Holifield’s recognition with the 2016 Crain's Cleveland Business Twenty in their 20s AwardClick here to learn more graduate education in the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.

Photos, courtesy of  CMSD and Crain's Cleveland (Tim Harrison and David Kordalski)

Making a Difference with Students and Families

In my first year at Cleveland School of the Arts, I built great relationships with my middle school students and their families and I wanted to keep that momentum going.  In year two, I began to seek ways to involve my students and parents in project-based learning experiences. Through parent discussions, we set an objective to create and lead extracurricular activities for the students to enjoy and to gain valuable skills.  The Middle School Parent Planning Committee was formed and our first event began within months with a combined effort to collect and donate bottled water for the residents of Flint, Michigan during the water crisis.

My goal was to expose my students to the inequities the Flint residents experienced with the discovery of lead-tainted drinking water.  Together we watched videos from CNN and discussed central themes.  That inspired students to find a role in helping the residents in Flint and we decided to host a water drive.  The Middle School Parent Planning Committee was excited to offer assistance and help advertise.  The water drive collected over $500.00 and more than 250 cases of water.  We chartered two buses for 100 CSA student scholars to deliver water and volunteer for the day at Flint’s food bank. This type of collaboration and service reminded me of my purpose in education.  Engaged parents, focused and resilient students, and a mission of service enabled us to make an impact on a real-world situation in a neighboring community.  This is what 21st Century learning is all about.  

Derrick Holifield, MPA 2017
Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs
Cleveland State University   

Previous Page