Moss Point goes ‘all in,’ brings noted educator Ron Clark in to motivate staff

Moss Point School District Superintendent Shannon Vincent pulled out all the stops Tuesday at a pep rally for district workers.

She introduced Ron Clark, founder of the Ron Clark Academy and a distinguished motivational speaker and educator, as the keynote speaker.

Vincent chose Clark to speak to her staff two days before the school year begins because she is attempting to do what Clark is known for — changing expectations and maximizing the potential of students and staff.

The district faces the possibility the state will take it over. Vincent and her staff must have Moss Point improve on no less than seven benchmarks, including raising the graduation, attendance and reading comprehension rates.

Clark has worked with disadvantaged students in rural North Carolina, Harlem and Atlanta.

Vincent has sent several of her teachers to Clark’s academy for instruction. Tuesday, the best-selling author came to them. Clark jazzed up the pep rally with personal anecdotes. He spoke of the difficulty of getting through to students.

“It takes a lot of work,” he said. “And sometimes, it might not seem like it’s paying off. I’m here to tell you it does pay off.”

Clark said teachers have to find a way to reach the students, even the most troublesome. He recalled chugging 14 pints of chocolate milk as an incentive to get his uninterested students to participate in a math exercise.

“See, if you tell a child there’s a 10-answer quiz tomorrow, they might say to themselves, ‘I know six of the questions, so I don’t need to study for it.’ But if you tell them it’s a 1,000-question test, they’re guaranteed to study at least a little. You raise the expectations and the kids will meet it,” he said.

His first year as a teacher in Harlem was the focus of a 2006 made-for-TV movie, “The Ron Clark Story,” starring Matthew Perry.

He opened an academy in the slums of Atlanta, gradually turning that institution into a national teacher-training academy.

He has appeared on national TV shows, including two appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Winfrey named him as her first “Phenomenal Man.”

His unorthodox, hands-on and inspirational teaching style helped turn the North Carolina and Harlem school districts around.

Vincent hopes for the same transition at Moss Point. The state classified the school district as “perpetually under-performing.”

In her introduction of Clark, Vincent told her faculty and staff she is “All In.”

“Our theme this year is ‘I’m All in.’ We need all of you to be all in, too,” Vincent told the audience of educators and administrators.

Her message remained similar to Clark’s.

“We can’t change that paper that says we were chronically absent. We can’t change that the paper shows we are considered a D district when all our neighboring schools are B’s or A’s,” she said.

“We can’t choose where we are. We can only choose where we’re going. We are not going to let the state take over. We’re not going to let that happen.

“You put in 50 percent, you get 50 percent in return. You put in 100 percent, you’ll get 100 percent out.”

Vincent also acknowledged the importance of her mother and father in her own career. The two were in attendance.

“My dad used to say to me, ‘They can’t break you if they didn’t make you.’ I didn’t understand that until later. Now I do. It’s the same thing I think of us as a school district. They can’t break us.”