its faculty, participate in hands-on workshops, and learn how to better apply the
school’s core principles: engage students, promote academic rigor, and create a
climate and culture that promotes success. But as attendance jumped from 60 to
387 teachers each day, it was obvious Bearden and Clark needed to expand their
facilities, or else start turning people away.
There are few spaces, let alone schools, as boldly designed as the Ron Clark
Academy. Explosions of color, texture, and art built up over time reflect not only the
culture of the institution, but also the individuals that have walked its halls. Photos
of the students and their work are displayed, and spray-painted murals by graf-
fiti artist “Mister Totem” turn the walls into theatrical castle turrets. Doorways are
arched with oversized wrought iron gates. A two-story dragon skeleton graces the
main staircase leading up to classrooms above the cafeteria and, perhaps best of
all, teachers are free to design their room themes however their imagination guides
them—like reading teacher Hope King’s Alice in Wonderland room, which opens
up through a hallway cut out of an oversized stack of books.
To pull off this latest expansion, the school cobbled together $1 million of
in-kind donations from manufacturers around the country. “Ron has a vision in his
head of what he wants things to look like, and a gift for understanding how he
can take the pieces that he has and meld them together to make that happen,”
said Bearden. They unveiled 25,000 square feet of state-of-the-art educator
training rooms, cafeteria and gathering spaces, and gymnasium facilities at a grand
opening party in January.
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