Fire-breathing dragons, gloves bestowing super abilities, and video game power-ups don’t usually come to mind when thinking about classrooms.

But six McAlester Public Schools teachers saw that and more during an education training development conference this month at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I think that was really what caught us was can you imagine walking into a school with this much excitement every day?” said MPS teacher Rachel Morris. “Thinking about creating that atmosphere of excitement where kids are so excited to be at school and as you do that, well that’s one of the things that I took away from the whole experience.”

Blair Green, Jennifer Lewis, Wendy Mitchell, Rachel Morris, Delilah Rodriguez, and Ryan Walters were selected as part of the McAlester Public Schools Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching and Innovation to attend the Ron Clark Academy.

The Puterbaugh Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the McGowan Family Foundation committed to donate $5,000 per year for the next five years to send McAlester Public Schools teachers to the Ron Clark Academy.

Nearly 500 educators attended the Ron Clark Academy and MPS Superintendent Randy Hughes thanked the donors for making the trips for locals possible.

“This is something I always wanted to do and having our teachers being able to experience that is great for our school, great for our kids and great for our community,” Hughes said. “We can’t thank them enough for their support for our kids.”

Educators from around the world visit the Ron Clark Academy to observe innovative teaching methods through workshops, training programs and more.

Ron Clark developed the program through working with disadvantaged children in rural North Carolina and Harlem in New York City. He was named one of Disney’s Teachers of the Year in 2000, is a New York Times bestselling author, and is a motivational speaker for educators.

The Ron Clark Academy also randomly placed students into houses or teams to compete for points.

MPS Teacher of the Year Jennifer Lewis said she would like to implement something like that in McAlester to promote school pride and a fun learning environment.

“Everyone was so pumped and so energetic and even if you are having a bad day, you couldn’t have a bad day,” Lewis said.

Walters said he believes the academy shows how teachers can positively impact students through teaching.

“They set the bar high and then give those kids that relationship and those really high-level teaching methods, bring them up to that level,” Walters said. “My biggest takeaway is how innovative the educators were and how intentional they were to relationship building.”

“I felt like his academy was all about those relationships,” Mitchell said of the Ron Clark Academy. “If you don’t have that, it’s really hard to do anything academically.”

McAlester High School teachers are developing a plan to improve their connections with some students, which they believe will improve the educational process.

Rodriguez said she learned to accept that expectations differ between classrooms and to set her own high goals.

“He said ‘it doesn’t matter what the teacher across the hall is doing, it’s your classroom,’” Rodriguez said. “If you want that high of expectation then you go for it.”

Green said she believes teamwork is key in making progress.

“I love seeing that everybody was just on the same page of ‘we’re getting these kids to a successful spot,’” Green said. “We’re all working towards the same goal.”

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at

Recommended for you