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Monday, October 12, 2009

Self-Made Educator Fulfills a Vision for Boys in Cleveland




Ted Ginn was a coach and full-time high school security guard in 2006 when he proposed to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District an academy based on his brand of mentoring.

By PETE THAMEL

October 9, 2009

CLEVELAND — A 16-year-old former gang member with a faux hawk waited at a recent high school football practice to approach Coach Ted Ginn, who is known for producing elite college and professional players.

He did not want to join the team.

The teenager wanted to enroll at the public school Ginn founded to give at-risk boys enough care, structure and education to succeed. Ginn suggested that the aspiring freshman, Joseph Williams, get a haircut and meet him in his office the next morning.

Williams shaved his head and rode his bike four miles to the school.

“I’m still young,” he told Ginn and the school’s principal, Byron Lyons. “I still have a chance.” After spending 21 days in jail with men facing life sentences, he said, he no longer wanted to be in “that other life.”

The school, Ginn Academy, had a spot for him, and Williams teared up. “I feel blessed,” he said.

Ginn, who has never taken a college class, was a coach and full-time high school security guard in 2006 when he proposed to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District an academy based on his brand of mentoring.

Even as the city’s graduation rate has fallen to 54 percent, Ginn Academy, now in its third year, has grown to 300 students, and no one has dropped out. Of the 37 students in its first senior class, 32 have already passed Ohio’s mandatory graduation exam.


Ginn at a morning assembly. Ginn Academy classes are smaller than the city’s average, and teachers are asked to be more involved.

Although Ginn used his prominence as a football coach at Glenville High School to start his academy, it is not to be confused with diploma mills where football and basketball players go to burnish their academic credentials to qualify for college. Ginn Academy has no varsity sports teams; students who are athletes can play for neighborhood high schools like Glenville, where Ginn was a security guard. Eighty-nine students at Ginn Academy are among the 107 varsity and junior varsity football players at Glenville.

The academy follows two basic philosophies that have worked elsewhere: hiring the best teachers based on a rigorous interview process, not the ones with the most seniority; and full immersion with additional staffers who are always on call.

“Those two areas of focus are what we see in some of the highest-performing low-income charter schools,” said Jon Schnur, the chief executive and a co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, a group that trains principals nationwide to improve school performance.

As the executive director of the academy, Ginn, 53, provides motivation and inspiration. He often speaks at the daily morning session. A fixture in the hallways, Ginn dispenses hugs, one-on-one pep talks and reminders to the boys to tuck in their shirts.

“Being a former professor, I can tell you the uniqueness of what he’s doing is something for the textbooks,” said Eugene Sanders, the chief executive of the district, who recalled Ginn’s pitch to start the academy as “perhaps the most passionate vision of any person I’ve ever had the opportunity to hear a plan from.”

Ginn Academy uses a curriculum that includes an emphasis on science and math to help students pass the state’s graduation exam. Ginn knows each student’s name and home situation, and even decided on the shade of red for the uniform blazers. He dislikes administrative meetings because he fears becoming “too corporate.”

Ginn, who is paid $66,950 annually, said: “The philosophy works because it’s all based on relationships and trust. And people don’t understand, but it’s so simple. You have to be consistent.”

Providing Direction

All students at Ginn Academy must turn right when leaving class, even if they would reach their destination more easily by turning left. Over the years, he said, too many students have gone the wrong way in life, like one Glenville quarterback from the 1980s who failed to qualify for a college scholarship. Ginn said there were no academic alternatives to help, and the quarterback ended up on the streets and addicted to crack cocaine. That kind of lost potential haunts and motivates Ginn.

At the academy, students know someone is always looking out for them. In addition to 23 teachers, seven youth support staff members serve essentially as life coaches, each in charge of 30 to 50 students. The seven, who receive district-issued cellphones, are on call 24 hours a day, even during the summer, to help students in emergencies or even to arrange rides to school.

Ginn Academy classes are smaller than the city’s average, and teachers are asked to be more involved. The Cleveland Teachers Union endorses Ginn’s efforts, said its president, David J. Quolke. Sanders, the district’s chief executive, said Ginn’s model could be duplicated.

“Through a personal relationship, individualizing the school experience, a student having a personal desire to be here, the parents choosing the school, and teachers being selected on the basis of skill and competence and not seniority are all variables that are part of the new wave of teaching and learning,” he said.

‘He Saved My Life’

Marvin D. Perry hardly attended class after his mother died of lung disease when he was in eighth grade. And he rarely saw his father, who, he said, struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. Perry said he entered Glenville High with “vengeance in his head” in 2006. But over time, he said, he began to look at Ginn as “the father figure I never had.”


After 21 years as an assistant football coach at Glenville, 10 of which he worked for free, Ginn became the head coach in 1997.

Perry, 19, is the president of Ginn Academy’s first senior class and plans to attend college on an academic scholarship. He said Toledo, Tennessee State and Morehouse were options.

“I can say that he saved my life,” Perry said of Ginn. “You can’t even count how many he’s saved.”

Perry, who lives in subsidized housing with his older sister, said they survive on government assistance and the $7-an-hour grocery store job Ginn helped him secure.

Once he finishes college and starts a career, Perry said, the first thing he plans to do is buy a headstone for his mother’s grave, now marked by a stick. When he visits, he cuts the surrounding grass with scissors.

The only reason Perry would consider staying in Cleveland, he said, would be to help Ginn. And students like Perry have kept Ginn from leaving for more lucrative jobs.

“I’m going to die working,” Ginn said. “I don’t know what everyone else lives for. This is what I live for, so I’m going to die working.”

More than 100 of Ginn’s football players at Glenville have received athletic scholarships to college, including 21 in 2005. Five are in the N.F.L., including his son, Ted Jr., a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins. A desire to play football has kept far more in school, even if they did not go on to college.

“There’s not a moment he’s awake when he’s not thinking about making this world better,” Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said of Ginn. Many of Ginn’s players have played for the Buckeyes, including Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner now with the Baltimore Ravens, and Donte Whitner, now with the Buffalo Bills.

Ginn is often late to practice and does not carry a whistle. On a recent day, he was still wearing a pinstriped beige suit and alligator shoes on the practice field.

Last year, he suspended 29 players for a second-round playoff game after they missed practice. (Glenville lost by a point.) This month, Ginn benched the star quarterback Cardale Jones for an important game because he had slept through practice and, worse, had been late for school. (Glenville won anyway.)


More than 100 of Ginn’s football players at Glenville have received athletic scholarships to college, including his son, Ted Jr., a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins.

“It’s always life first at Ginn Academy,” Jones, a junior, said. “Then it’s school, and then it’s football. It’s a great experience. It’s changing my life.”

Humble Roots

Ginn grew up so poor in tiny Franklinton, La., he considered a bologna sandwich a treat. He recalls being embarrassed that the biscuits his grandmother made left grease stains on his brown lunch bag. He also remembers removing burned crosses that the Ku Klux Klan would leave at forks in the road near his church.

“I think I was being educated while being raised, coming through the South in segregation,” Ginn said. “That’s being educated.”

Ginn moved to Cleveland when he was 11 and never left. In 1974, he graduated from Glenville, where he played center on the football team and met his future wife, Jeanette. He worked as a machinist and inspected airplane landing gear before becoming a security guard at a junior high school and later at Glenville. After 21 years as a football assistant at Glenville, 10 of which he worked for free, Ginn became the head coach in 1997. His career coaching record is 120-28.

Ginn Academy, which opened in September 2007 with 100 freshmen and 50 sophomores, now occupies a former middle school with more than 100,000 square feet of space. It has attracted top educators and visitors from outside the district who come to see the innovative school in action.

Valeria Flewelon, who teaches career technology at Ginn Academy, drove Jones to school throughout his freshman year, buying him breakfast at McDonald’s. She said the teacher-student relationships are stronger at Ginn than at any other place she has taught in 25 years in Cleveland.

“Because I never gave birth to any children of my own, me being here makes me feel like I have 100-plus sons,” she said.

Judy Rickel, an art teacher with 20 years’ experience, came to Ginn Academy this year with $50,000 in equipment she obtained through grants. She said she took the job because of Ginn. “He has a personal interest in every single student at this school,” she said. “I’m loving every single minute of it.”

Like the hallways at the Ginn Academy, the teachers’ mission is based on moving in the right direction.

“If you come here for a job, you’re in the wrong place,” Ginn said. “This is not a job, it’s a calling. It’s somewhere everyone can make a difference in the world.”

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