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Renowned educator Ron Clark gives local teachers, administrators a pep talk

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District administrators and teachers got a motivational boost Tuesday morning as they prepared for the post-winter break return of students on Wednesday. Ron Clark, an educator widely known for his creative and successful work with at-risk students, was invited to address the standing-room-only group at Gray Middle School.

Clark, the founder of The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, was the focus of a 2006 television movie, “The Ron Clark Story,” which starred Matthew Perry and highlighted Clark’s first year teaching in East Harlem. There, Clark encountered neglected, abused and difficult students. He used hip-hop music, Double Dutch, and other creative means to reach them.

“You don’t have to dress in costume, stand on desks or rap lessons, but you have to do something,” he told the crowd, in his trademark animated style. “Kids can tell when you go above and beyond that you love them.”

Clark’s 2003 book, “The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child,” became a New York Times bestseller. More than 1 million copies have been sold, and it has been published in 25 countries.

He told stories about how he pulled in bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and even convenience store clerks in the community to help students successfully learn 1,000 vocabulary words. He told the audience how he changed the words to “The Love Boat” TV show theme song to teach geography lessons, and how he used balloons (and the promise of being allowed to pop them) to teach math.  He urged educators to avoid what he calls “molasses classes” – slow and unexciting – and to get passionate about teaching.

“We have one chance to make a difference with these students,’’ he said.