Wilemon STEAM Academy principal Kate Authier was surprised on Christmas Day when her husband gifted her a plane ticket to Atlanta to visit The Ron Clark Academy.

Authier plans to check The Ron Clark Academy off her bucket list later this semester. She, along with nearly 1,000 other educators got a dose of what the demonstration school has to offer during the annual Waxahachie ISD professional development earlier this month.

The Ron Clark Academy has national and international recognition for its success in student education with academic rigor, and a passion that is balanced by a strict code of discipline. The academy is unique as it extends its reach beyond the fifth through eighth-grade students that comprise the school.

The RCA website explains that it is a “demonstration school — a place where visiting educators engage in a vibrant professional development experience by observing best practices in action.”

This one-of-a-kind experience for an educator was then spread throughout Waxahachie ISD on Jan. 9.

Six years ago, WISD revamped its mandated professional development into Camp iNation to better engage staff. The curriculum department this year — spearheaded by WISD Digital Learning Coordinator Ashley Cieri and Debbie Needham, instructional technology coordinator — brought in an impactful keynote speaker to inspire teachers for the second semester.

Kim Bearden, who co-founded The Ron Clark Academy, shared her message about positive relationships in and out of the classroom with 901 individuals inside the Performing Arts Center at Waxahachie High.

Shelle Blaylock, assistant superintendent of curriculum and success, explained each year a Texas or national figure would speak. This year was the first to feature a female speaker.

“The gist of her whole speech was that we need to be compassionate about where students are on their journey through life,” Blaylock elaborated. “Although we are educating them with state standards and we have this responsibility for them to master content, that the relationship is critical to them to be successful in the classroom.”

Blaylock mentioned the feedback she received from other teachers was positive.

“I think the keynote speaker was probably the perfect selection," Blaylock boasted. "With Kim Bearden, she spoke to the hearts of our teachers about what they hope to accomplish on campus.”

After the hour-and-a-half long motivational speech, WISD personnel broke out into 157 mini sessions. Topics led predominately by WISD employees included special education, student engagement, classroom management, best practices, Google, technology tools, content specific resources and building relationships.

Outside personnel who contributed to the breakout sessions were Jason Bang, former WISD trustee Matt Authier, and Dr. LaShera McElhandey with the Southwestern Assemblies of God University.

Administration, principals, a Region 10 presenter and two Red Oak ISD teachers also provided lessons. Blaylock noted the amount was smaller than usual because the program is usually held in August. Due to the completion of Waxahachie High School, it was more assessable to host the training on winter break.


Wedgeworth Elementary and Wilemon STEAM Academy have mirrored the structure introduced by RCA, called the house system.

Authier, who will visit RCA this school year, expressed her love for the influential campus in Atlanta and elaborated that the program has been transitional for Wilemon.

“I have been in love with RCA for a long time,” Authier said. “Then, this year at Wilemon — it was the teachers as a whole that decided to do this — we did the house system that was adopted by Ron Clark.”

Authier and the Wilemon assistant principal Karin Polk conducted a session at Camp iNation on “Welcome to our home” that discussed the house system.

Authier said the RCA campus was designed for educators to learn and that the classes are equipped with supervising seats.

The private middle school has about 100 students enrolled, but the intent behind the innovative campus is to educate teachers on effective ways to teach. Authier also shared that every visitor of RCA is required to get slide certified. The slide at RCA is two stories high.

Authier went into detail on what precisely the slide resembled. She first explained that all Wilemon students are slide certified.

At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, students in kindergarten through fifth grade slid down a bounce slide to draw a popsicle stick, which identified the house they belong to for the year. The houses are named dreamers, creators, leaders and givers.

When the campus breaks out into “house parties,” these groups come together for celebrations and specials, student recognition and leadership activities. This experience allows the students to relate on a different level with peers in all elementary grades.

A voluntary book study over Bearden’s book, “Talk to Me,” was organized toward the beginning of the year as well. After Bearden spoke to all of WISD, more teachers at the Wilemon campus and the district are interested.

Authier explained the material “makes you more aware when you’re speaking to your students and when you’re speaking to staff members — you know validation and consideration, thinking about the parent, student, or whoever it may be like maybe they are upset right now, but where is that really coming from? What’s their story? Let’s be considerate of that and validate them and let them know you are considerate of that.”

Authier is unsure when she will participate at RCA this year, but is determined to bring information she learns back to her team at Wilemon.

“I plan on doing a full video diary when I’m there, and I just want to share the experience with my staff because I wish they could all come with me,” Authier said.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450