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Niangua administration elaborates on Ron Clark Academy adoption


In order to induce change, you have to implement change.

The Niangua School District has announced its adoption of the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) House System. RCA has been pushed into public schools across the nation with great success. Teachers from all over the world visit RCA to learn more about how to keep kids engaged during modern times. According to ronclarkacademy.com, the system is a dynamic, exciting and proven way to create a positive climate and culture for both students and staff. The site states, “Using RCA’s methods will help your school or district confidently implement processes that build character, relationships and school spirit.”

RCA is a non-profit, private school in Atlanta which aims to inspire academic excellence, leadership and collaboration. Niangua is required to spend 1% of their budget on professional development. During a professional development trip to RCA in Atlanta this summer, a group of teachers and staff were able to see first-hand how the system increases student engagement, which as a byproduct, decreases discipline and increases academic ability.

“Everything is all about that engagement aspect,” explained Niangua Superintendent David Baker. “You can’t have engagement without building relationships with students and that’s what this is about. Building relationships, having the students buy in and giving them something to be excited about… it’s definitely not about dancing around classrooms or jumping up on chairs and desks. What it really looks like is teachers finding their passion for education again and having students feeling like they belong to something bigger.”

“We have a lot of kids who are not a part of sports programs, not on the math team or not wanting to participate in spelling bees, things like that. When they come to school, we have to find a way to get them connected and engaged, and empowered. They need to feel some ownership for their learning,” added Elementary Principal Lori Allen. “We believe this system is the way to do it. It fills that need for belonging and creates a team inside of the school so that each student has a connection when they walk in our doors.”

A letter to parents last May in response to Junior High 2021-2022 MAP scores which improved in 2022-2023 noted that Niangua middle school math sits among the lowest academic schools in the state – ranking in the bottom 5%. Currently, 64% of Niangua students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, which is indicative of the poverty level. Parents and local community leaders have also become less involved in Niangua Schools since COVID started, which they say has negatively affected students’ engagement and performance. Students have continued to become more disconnected with each other and their teachers due to social media.

“We have a poverty stricken community. A lot of times our students will come back to us on Tuesday morning for breakfast and they may not have had a solid routine or meal since Friday afternoon,” said Baker. “This system gives them that sense of safety, sense of routine and sense of belonging. The house system increases that ability while the teaching aspect does not change. I’m hoping the RCA system will help build a strong educational foundation to keep the district growing academically.

Friday, Oct. 6, Niangua students spent a half-day in their classrooms before K-5th grade students attended an assembly in the gymnasium where they were assigned to a house one at a time. This week, students were able to begin earning points for their house, which motivates them to go above and beyond inside the classroom, and out.

“Every student has the ability to earn points for their house through good behavior, going above and beyond for their classmates, attendance, honor roll, character, spirit days and more. The possibilities are endless,” explained Allen. “Teachers, cafeteria staff, bus drivers… everybody has the ability to award points.”

Points are instantly updated through the house app, which tracks points. The school received a grant from the Marshfield Community foundation to pay for the app. At the end of the year, the winning house is celebrated at the school’s Field Day with the remaining three houses dressed in the winner’s color.

The four houses are Altruismo, Amistad, Isibindi and Reveur.

Altruismo is Portuguese for “altruism” or “the givers.” Amistad is Spanish for “friendship.” Isibindi means “courage” in the language of Zulu. Reveur comes from the French, meaning “dreamer or idealist.”

“We have to do something for our kids. If we just sat here and did nothing, nothing would change,” Baker said. “We often see kids running in and screaming with joy for the first day of school… but by week two, three, first or second grade, that curiosity is gone because it’s school. It’s all about compliance and not learning, right? We’re trying to bring that learning and that joy and curiosity back into our school. We want kids to want to be here because if they want to, they’ll do more.”

The RCA house system will be carried into the middle school along with this year’s 5th graders. As that class moves through middle school and into high school, the system will follow them. Eventually, elementary, middle and high school will use the house system. 

When news of the RCA implementation broke, many parents and community members voiced complaints about the lack of control teachers will have over the classroom. However, Baker assures the community that’s not the case. 

“We have great teachers and it’s more about keeping control of the classroom and keeping students interested rather than letting students run wild or having a lack of rules. Rules are still 100% in place. We want these kids to be engaged because everything we are doing will go further if students buy into it,” he said. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink… We’re trying to lead them and with this system, and encourage them to take that drink.”


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