All posts by Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr.

Mr. Ankrum is the current Superintendent of the Riverhead Charter School. Mr. Ankrum has gained notoriety as a school turnaround expert. He is enthusiastic about helping students from low (SES) find ways to end generational poverty through educational advocacy. If you believe PoC can end generational poverty by exercising educational opportunities, you have an ally in @Mr_Ankrum.

School Choice, Here’s Why.

Teach the Babies:

My thoughts on public education are simple, cut out the bureaucratic red tape and “teach the babies,” as my friend and Parent Advocate Gwen Samuels would say. Parents entrust in all educators, albeit public, private, parochial, charter, with their most valued assets, their scholars.  School choice is a parent’s right.

Truthfully, I find honor when a parent makes a choice to send their scholar to our school, under our care. I also take it personally when we aren’t doing right by our students/parents. I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that we correct our wrongs- reflect- and put forth a more concerted effort when we face similar challenges. Our failures aren’t failures, they are opportunities to grow.

The best two years of my professional career (thus far) were when I was able to be both principal and parent for my 12-year-old scholar. I take great pride in being his father.


Positive Imagery in Schools:

Moreover, I took almost the same amount of pride in being an educator that mirrored my son’s image, because all too often Black kids aren’t able to see those positive images enough to make a difference in their lives. It gave me the oy to know that if his professional athletic career fails, he plans to go into education as his fall back plan.

Reluctantly, I recently had a conversation with a friend that is adamantly against charter schools. I always hear my friends out before I respond. My goal is never to listen to respond but to actually listen to a person’s concerns. Sometimes it takes me a while to get back to people because I really care about how I respond, and I don’t want it to seem like my responses are transcribed.


Anti-Charter friends:

My friend, as well as many other friends of mine, dislike charter schools. They feel large charter networks, also known as Charter Management Organizations (CMO’s) prey on the disenfranchised, and disguise themselves in the name of “school choice.”

Those against school choice oppose charter schools.

Another area of contention regarding charter schools are the harsh disciplinary policies, and the ability to part ways with unruly scholars. Their argument is if public schools were able to expel students that weren’t a good fit for their program, charter schools would be obsolete. I explained with great enthusiasm that most charter schools have moved away from harsh disciplinary measures, and have moved to a restorative justice model. Every time there’s an incident of mistreatment of a scholar in any charter school nationwide, I get an email or a text message with the link and the word “see”…


For the Love of School Choice:

Rather than respond to my friends using my “pro-charter school notes,” I respond to them with my heart. My first question to my friend that is an NYC Public school teacher is always, would you let your children attend the school or attend a school in the school system (besides the specialized NYC high schools) in which you teach? There’s always this awkward silence.

So you, as a teacher in the system are okay with parents sending their scholars to you, yet you would not make the same choice to send your scholars to a school within your network? I love it when my friends repeat my questions aloud. I hope that when they hear how detached they’ve become, they would self correct their anti-charter stance. Their response is usually, well your charter school is different, you actually care. I accepted the compliment, but other charter leaders care the same way that I care.


Why we Teach:

Education is one of the most thankless jobs, and I have no desire to take shots at other types of schools if they are doing right by scholars. I dream of an education system where there is no charter vs. public school rhetoric. How awesome would it be for scholars if adults on both sides of the choice argument could put their differences aside, and put the scholars at the forefront? How awesome would it be if there was more collaboration between districts and charter schools that are within that district? Seems like a win-win for parents, scholars, and educators.


Fair Criticism:

Is the criticism on CMO’s Fair? I don’t think it is. Having worked in a couple of CMO’s I’m thankful that each of the networks that I worked in had no problem putting students first. Are some CMO’s better than others? Of course, but with governmental oversight, random state auditing, many things are put in place to ensure that money is spent on educating scholars. Will this response to my friends’ criticism of school choice change their minds, probably not. However, this will give you proper insight on why it’s essential to not infringe on other folks school choice, even if you don’t support it.

Consequently, some folks have gotten to the point in their lives to where they are financially stable enough to dictate the zip code where they live. For those that have reached that pinnacle, you’ve exercised choice and had the purchasing power to ensure their voices were heard. Please don’t take away the views of those that can’t buy houses in your neighborhood. Many of these folks leverage school choice and their ability to select from schools that fit their needs. They may not have earned enough money to be your neighbor, but they’ve definitely made the right to choose where their scholars attend school.


A choice for Some:

Lastly, you’ll have some people that will say, “they (parents that choose choice) aren’t smart enough to make those choices for themselves”. Please know that this response is offensive to all parents, and you are in no place to make this choice for parents. I ask that you stop doing this and disguising it in the name of care… because the fact that you feel it’s okay to reprimand parents for the choices they make is a riddled absurdity, to say the least.

My choice on where I send my scholar to school is exactly that, my choice. It’s okay to debate on which option is better, healthy debate and competition make for more competitive schools. But don’t you dare tell me where to send my child to school, because that is my choice!

Controlling Your Classroom

Controlling Your Classroom:

Firstly, make no mistake, there will be a ton of things that you can’t control as a classroom teacher. Instead of focusing on the things outside of our control, why not put all of your energies into the things that you can control.

Moreover, by focusing on controllable factors, it allows you to put more emphasis on your development as a teacher. Focusing on things outside of your control puts you in a negative stratosphere, creating an environment of complaining while sustaining a learning atmosphere that’s, not in the best interest of students.


Managing Your Classroom:

As a classroom teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools, my classroom was my peace. It was my escape from all of the ails that existed in the system. I was able to establish classroom norms, and create systems geared toward a normalized learning experience for students.

In fact, I could not control the trauma experienced by some of my students in their homes. Rather than focus on the uncontrollable, one thing I could control was establishing a safe space for my students to learn.


High Expectations For Students:

Students that experience trauma in their homes more than likely has self-esteem issues. These students don’t want you to feel sorry for them. Students want you to show them a way out of their current situation. Kids want you to believe in them and their abilities. They want consistency, as in you at work every day. Children want to be at the forefront of your thoughts, and they want to know that they can count on you no matter what.

Notwithstanding, I wouldn’t dare ask you to try and control the trauma experienced by your students. Here’s where apathy for your students should automatically activate itself. Your students need you to be clear headed, to raise the bar, and keep it raised. They will rise to the occasion if you believe in them.

 


Bloom's Taxonomy | Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

Believing in Your Students:

It is easy to become overly consumed by the things you can’t control. After all, we’re only human. Students don’t need humans, they need superheroes. Kids need you to see the future and help them in maximizing their potential. Students are going to make you mad. Students are going to do everything in their power to test your resolve, but as a superhero, take their antics with a grain of salt, as you are doing this work for the greater good, and your belief in their ability supersedes anything else. Once they know you’re in it, and willing to do anything and everything they need to experience success, relationships move from being contentious to that of admiration.


Not Being a Bore:

Easier said than done. I refused to be a bore in my classroom. When students experience boredom in schools, they become talkative (unaccountable talk). In the classes that were actively engaged, my full attention was on that teacher. Pardon my candidness, but a lot of teachers (at least from my experience) use their classrooms as their soapbox. Students don’t want to hear you talk. The faster you embrace this fact, the faster your superhero senses will activate, allowing you to create “rock star” lessons that your students find engaging.

For more research on utilizing teacher leadership as a catalyst for change in your schools, read this article: https://goo.gl/NY52ca

When Teachers Were Revered

Early Years:

I grew up in Covington, La, a small town located on the North Shore, about 30 miles outside of New Orleans, La. Covington is located in St. Tammany Parish.  The teachers in my city were revered.

Louisiana is the only state made up of parishes instead of counties. St. Tammany Parish schools are some of the most sought after schools in Louisiana. Their schools are known for providing quality education to its students.

Moreover, at the beginning of my summer going into 4th grade, I received some horrible news. My grandmother was rushed to the hospital. That morning sandwiches were made for my vacation bible school class at the Greater Starlight Baptist Church. My grandma dropped me off, picked up her friend Ms. Melvinna (sp.).  She drove to her favorite fishing spot in Madisonville, La. Sometimes I wonder if she knew that would be her last fishing trip?


4th Grade:

In any event, fast forward to my 4th-grade year. Our school broke up into tracked achievement cohorts. Students ranged from group one to group six. Group one, mainly comprised of Caucasian students. Consequently, group six was mainly comprised of African-American students. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the student groupings.

Nowadays, I can see a direct correlation between the African-American male students in groups five and six and their life trajectory. Many of those students ended up in special education classes, ultimately dropping out of school and going to prison. All things considered, Covington’s school to prison pipeline began in its schools, as early as 4th grade.


Identifying Black Brilliance:

Ironically, I remember my 4th grade Math teacher, Mrs. Beecher had given us a Math sprint. A Math sprint is a timed test, in which you are given a certain amount of time to complete a full page of math facts. We had three minutes that day, with the ultimate goal of being able to complete the Math sprint assignment in one minute.

I finished the Math Sprint in one minute, while other students in my class struggled. I remember Mrs. Beecher having a conversation with Mrs. Smith, one of two African-American teachers at my school. I don’t know the specifics of the conversation, but from what I remember, the next day my class was different. I moved to group one.


C.J. Schoen Middle School, my school in 4th Grade

In the 1980’s African-American educators in my community were revered. It didn’t matter what grade level you taught if you were a teacher, the black community put some “respect” on your name.

The Sunday School Impact:

Notwithstanding, Sunday school, and not just for the content in the Bible. Our teachers used teaching strategies, provided supplemental materials, assigned homework, went over homework. When I think back to the amount of work that went into preparing those Sunday lessons, I am forever grateful. How many folks nowadays can say they learned how to read in Sunday school?

Nowadays, the teaching profession just isn’t the same. Less than 2% of teachers nationwide are black males. There’s a shortage of teachers in every major school district.


In summary, there not enough inspiration in our communities to motivate us to enact change? There is no greater change that you can provide to your community than to be a change-maker. Becoming an educator is one of the most selfless acts that you’ll ever pursue. You’re not doing it for the money, or for what you can get out of it.  You’re doing it because you have a natural inclination to give back to the poor and disenfranchised. At least that’s why I do it.

I’d lack to formally acknowledge the educators that made a difference in my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and hopefully, I can be just as impactful for others.

My heroes and sheroes:

Mrs. Callahan Sunday School Teacher

Mrs. Heisser (SIP) Head Start

Mrs. Ruffin Kindergarten (my first crush)

Mrs. Golden (SIP) (2nd Grade)

Mrs. Smith 6th Grade ELA Teacher

Mr. McGee (SIP) 6th Grade Science

Mrs. Thomas 6th Grade Science

Mrs. Anderson Jr. High PE teacher

Mr. Landor (SIP) 8th Grade Algebra

Mr. Bass (best substitute teacher ever)

Mr. Bo Elzy Recreation Director (pops)

Mr. Spear High School Social Studies Teacher

Coach Dick O’Neil High School Basketball Coach

SUNY’s Controversial Plan

SUNY’s Controversial Plan to Allows Charters to Certify Teachers:

Firstly, SUNY is a nationally recognized charter school authorizer from NY state. SUNY recently made headlines for approving a new, innovative approach by allowing its high-performing charter schools to certify their teachers. Some Charter schools experience hard times staffing their schools with highly qualified staff. Consequently, teacher turnover rates are higher than in traditional public schools.

According to a study on teacher turnover conducted on charter and public school teachers in Los Angeles, determined that charter school teachers leave at a 33% higher rate than teachers at traditional public schools.

The Nay-Sayers

Generally speaking, as a school leader in public charter schools, I have always operated under the mantra that no teacher education program was created equal. We would have some first-year teachers that were extremely prepared for the classroom.  We have others that are less prepared to take over a class. It comes as no surprise that colleges and universities are not in favor of this new teacher certification initiative.

Not to mention, universities lose a ton of money if potential teachers no longer obtained Master’s degrees in education. I am not sure what the world of education would do if out of touch college and university professors lost their soapboxes, and had to move away from the theory component of teacher training. Imagine if they had to deal with the complexities of the practice component of training teachers. One of the most significant takeaways from my teacher education program was, in theory, everything works.  However, in practice, well that is a different story.


NYSUT:

Moreover, another major player in opposing SUNY charters to certify their teachers is the state’s largest teachers’ union. Those familiar with NYSUT should not be surprised by their stance. Anything anti-establishment in my opinion usually draws ire from NYSUT. I am not sure if NYSUT is upset because they did not have a say in the process. Maybe this is just legal posturing. It could be their usual malcontent for anything charter school related.

It’s Never Really About the Students:

Lastly, and most importantly, what about the Scholars? Success Academy, and other top performing charter schools that will have the honor of certifying their teachers. Success Academies have knocked the ball out of the park with their performance on NY State assessments. If I were a teacher, training under schools that have a proven formula for success (no pun intended) would entice me.  I would choose this over a dreadful undergraduate program that doesn’t prepare you for teaching.

Notwithstanding, how will this benefit the scholars? Having an in-house training program will allow charters to build teacher capacity and stamina for the work. Two of the top five reasons teachers leave charter schools are lack of administrator support and job security. Charter schools would be more invested in keeping staff that they have trained from the ground up. Plus, it is a lot easier to hold charter school’s accountable for staff attrition if they are certifying their teachers. We all want teacher turnover to decrease, and that will undoubtedly benefit scholars.


RCS #PuertoRicoStrong Initiative

My opinion is that I like the idea.  However, I want to love the idea. Having a clear and transparent record keeping of staff attrition is helpful.  There would need to be a way to monitor teachers who leave after they are certified.  Possibly only allowing these teachers to transfer to other SUNY endorsed schools.