Clark talks classroom success with WPCSD

Ron Clark met with teachers and faculty Tuesday at West Point High School. Clark spoke to them about how to engage students and achieve success in the classroom. Clark signs a copy of his book, "The Essential 55" for Bruce Mize, AP History instructor at West Point High School.
Staff Writer

Ron Clark was named the 2000 Disney American Teacher of the Year, he is a two-time New York Times best-selling author, the subject of a television movie, “The Ron Clark Story” on the TNT Network in 2006, and the founder of The Ron Clark Academy.

Clark recently paid a visit to the teachers and faculty of the West Point Consolidated School District and shared his energy and enthusiasm for teaching.

"I'm originally from Aurora, North Carolina," Clark said. "When I finished high school, I applied for a Teaching Fellows Scholarship, even though I had absolutely no intention of teaching. After college I went to the U.K. and got a job as a singing and dancing waiter at a 'Texas' restaurant. They didn't know the difference between Texas and North Carolina accents."

He said he backpacked across Europe, and went home to North Carolina after visiting Romania.

"A fifth grade teacher at the local elementary school had recently passed away and my mother wanted me to apply for the job," Clark said. "I was not interested in staying in Aurora when my friend Bri, who I had backpacked in Europe with, was moving to California to live on the beach. That's where I planned to go next."

Clark said he utterly refused to even speak with the principal, until his parents told him they would no longer help fund his ongoing adventures unless he did what they asked.
"I was the first one at the school at Snowden Elementary School the next day,” Clark said.

He was not at all interested in the position but after observing the "eccentric" substitute teacher's methods, he decided those kids deserved the best he, as a teacher, would be able to offer them.

"That is where the true journey began," Clark said. "I took those kids to the White House, we went on cross country field trips, and then I moved to an inner city school in Harlem, New York."

He said as a skinny white guy, the faculty at the school in Harlem thought he had made a mistake.

"I had to build bonds with these kids," Clark said. "I taught these kids with the same lessons my grandmother taught me. You have to use your personality to connect with your students. That is where my book 'The Essential 55' came from. Those are my grandmother's lessons that she taught me."

Clark said he was named the 2000 Disney American Teacher of the Year, and he was invited as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

"I got to meet Oprah," Clark said. "I was so nervous. But she liked me, and afterward she told me to write a book. Well, when Oprah tells you to write a book, you write it."

After the book was published, he was asked to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show again, and bring the book.

"It was an Oprah's Book Club selection," Clark said. "When Oprah holds your book to her bosom and recommends people read it, they read it."

He said within days it was number two on the New York Times Best Seller List.

"I bought a sprawling old factory building in Atlanta and turned it into a school," Clark said. "That was the beginning of The Ron Clark Academy."

He said this is a school for teachers even more than the students.

"We invited teachers to come and take the tour," Clark said. "We want to impart fresh, new ideas of how to engage students and make them love to learn."

Wynester Cousins, principal of Central School, had taken the tour and visited The Ron Clark Academy.

"It is not the traditional learning environment," Cousins said. "Almost all the schools in Mississippi are traditional schools. The walls move at his school. All the students are interested and engaged in learning."

Rachelle Gwathney, a second grade teacher at Church Hill, said she enjoyed having Clark come to inspire the educators.

"It's obvious he has a love and passion for teaching and for the children," Gwathney said. "Teaching is truly a calling. No one goes into education for the money."

Cindy Donahoo, principal of Church Hill Elementary, had also visited The Ron Clark Academy.

"Several of us have been to the academy in Atlanta," Donahoo said. "The children are just like our children. They come from many different socio - economic backgrounds. The parents have to provide transportation to and from school. The emphasis is on every child doing their best. It's what we all want as educators, the very best for the children."