Scores Are Up, Dismay Is Down: Determination by This Mount Vernon (N.Y.) Superintendent Has Brought His Once Low-Achieving District to New Heights. (Administrator Profile)
Pascopella, Angela, District Administration
With the vision of a world-class leader, a heart as warm as a summer day, and a no-nonsense attitude that doesn't accept excuses, Ronald Ross is making headlines and increasing student success in this low-income New York district.
Ross, 57, is superintendent of schools at Mount Vernon (N.Y) Public Schools. Since he began four years ago, student test scores have increased at the elementary level and teacher salaries have risen. He accomplished this in part by readjusting the budget and central administration.
"To me I just think it's common sense," Ross says with a raspy voice. "There needs to be a strong principal and caring teachers, and they need to be passionate and creative. Then kids will want to learn."
But all did not come easy. Some criticized Ross and his style--in part because he did not accept excuses for children who didn't learn. Despite criticism, Ross, a black man succeeding a mostly white administration, carried on with determination, something he says he gets from his late mother. "It was like gnashing teeth," Ross recalls of his first months. "The board felt like I was making changes too fast."
Ross moved administrators and principals around; created new programs to encourage reading; and assigned administrators to oversee specific parts of the curriculum. "When someone new comes in you're a little reluctant," says George Albano, principal at Lincoln Elementary School. "But I believed in his ideas."
Kindergarten teacher Rita Abdoo was wary at first. "He came and said, `Either you do your job, or I'll get rid of you.' But he's really been wonderful. He values teachers, and he supports us."
DESTINY A child of the 1950s, Ross spent his school days in Warrenton, Va. "I was lucky," Ross says. "I had black teachers, real role models that cared about you." Upon graduating from Howard University, Ross wanted to avoid the Vietnam War so he joined the Teacher Corps. "Everyone told me from the beginning that I was good with kids," Ross recalls. "And then very qnickly I could not imagine doing anything else."
When he started in Mount Vernon, Ross focused on elementary education. He put an administrator in charge of each of the state's seven learning standards. He placed them in schools to act as a "colleague to help teachers."
Ross says he had "ongoing, sustained and relentless" professional development for teachers and principals so "everyone was getting on the same page. …