May 5, 2017 - Atlanta - With the help of a little music from La La Land, Ron Clark teaches his 5th-grade math class. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Simple rules for school success

The Ron Clark Academy is a nonprofit middle school whose inaugural class of graduating eighth-graders doubled their test scores and received more than $800,000 in high school scholarships and support.

We are thrilled by the media coverage we have received for our model of innovative education that has promoted student success, confidence and achievement.

The recent coverage, however, has also sparked a timely debate about the cost of achieving student and educator success. RCA spends more per student than Georgia’s public schools, but operational costs are higher because the Ron Clark Academy is also a training site for educators. Since its inception, RCA’s staff has trained more than 9,000 teachers and has become one of the most popular professional development sites in the country.

Visitors to RCA observe our classrooms and programs and then take our methods and techniques back to their school systems.

Superintendents, principals, board members and teachers who spend time at RCA say they have been rejuvenated and that their time with us has inspired them to be better educators.

At a time when the Obama administration is infusing billions in stimulus funds to target the nation’s challenged education system, a frank discussion of the true cost of education is certainly timely.

But as we show our visiting teachers, there are hundreds of ways educators can adopt some of the teaching techniques on display at RCA within their own budgets and without spending thousands of dollars.

Here are a few examples we recommend:

● Teach to the top. Instead of setting classroom standards based on the students who aren’t achieving, set your expectations high; the higher the expectations, the greater the results.

● Engage the parents. At RCA we have parent math nights where we show our parents, step-by-step, what is expected of our students. We visit the home of every child and ask our parents to give 40 hours of community service each year. Last year, our parents gave a total of 6,500 hours in our school.

● Set the tone for excitement in the classroom. Education shouldn’t be boring. We want to set our kids on fire with the quest for knowledge, and that energy begins with the tone that is set by teachers who are full of creativity, passion and energy.

● Place manners and structure in the school setting. At RCA we have “55 Essential Rules” for behavior and respect. We teach our students ways to handle conflict, to treat their teachers, to be organized and to be the best students they can be. We have found that the more specific our expectations are, the better the results.

● Create a family. RCA staff work extremely hard to demonstrate to our students what it means to be a family, to have compassion and to uplift each other. While most teachers’ hands are tied in terms of their allocated funding, we know that every teacher can take passion, dedication, creativity and a system of discipline and expectations into his or her classroom and achieve great student success.

RCA is built by public school teachers to uplift public school education. We are a grassroots nonprofit that is trying to start a revolution of change and improvement in classrooms near and far. We appreciate those who are supporting our mission to impact the lives of children, and we encourage educators everywhere to join us in our mission to revolutionize the modern classroom.

Ann Cramer is director of citizenship and corporate affairs for the Americas at IBM and a member of the Ron Clark Academy’s Advisory Board.

Ron Clark is the co-founder of the Ron Clark Academy.

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