Ricardo Robinson - Deer Park Middle School
As a black male student, Ricardo Robinson noticed that very few of his teachers through the years looked like him. As he matured, his career choice was driven by the notion that young black boys that would come after him, be motivated and inspired by other black men such as himself.
He chose the field of education to help bridge the gap and improve the inequities that African-American students often suffer.
Robinson grew up in Charleston and is a product of Charleston County School District (CCSD). He attended St. Andrew’s Elementary School, Drayton Hall Middle School, West Ashley High School, and graduated from Burke High School in 2006. His mother and grandmother, Ivah and Martha Robinson, respectively, worked at St. Andrew’s while he attended the school. Their influence - and a tutor at The P.I.N.K. H.O.US.E. community center (People Innovating New Kinships thru Helping Others Uplift Services and Education) in his neighborhood also sparked his passion for wanting to become an educator. His fifth-grade teacher Eva Dawson also played a major role in his decision.
“The biggest thing for me was to ensure, for at least one school year in a black boy’s life, that they would not have to encounter the challenges I faced as a student, as far as inequities,” said Robinson. “I feel that the district, over the years, has acknowledged our challenges and struggles. I love the idea of being a part of helping to work towards finding solutions. One of our largest struggles is how to serve students that look like me, equitably.”
Coming back to teach in Charleston wasn’t much of a choice for Robinson. After graduating with an elementary education degree from Benedict College, he made his teaching debut with CCSD at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School where he taught for four years. “I loved every bit of it,” said Robinson. “I only left because I had the opportunity to travel the world and teach overseas for a stint but when it was time to come home, I knew I was coming back to CCSD.”
Robinson returned and taught at Orange Grove Elementary School before becoming an Assistant Principal at West Ashley Middle School and St. James-Santee. He is currently an AP at Deer Park Middle School and working on his Doctorate in Education System Improvement Science at Clemson University.
School administration was not necessarily a goal for Robinson but rather, a natural progression.
“I feel like I was effective with my students in my classroom but being administrator, I can impact more students by working with and coaching teachers,” said Robinson. “I really like helping teachers discovering what's possible and unlocking their potential to make learning fun and accessible.”
Robinson’s career with CCSD has taken him across the district. Sanders-Clyde and St. James-Santee stood out to him because of the wide age range; kindergarten through 8th grade.
This is Robinson’s third year as an administrator.
“Leadership comes naturally to Mr. Robinson,” said Deer Park Principal Shanitra Deas. “He is an excellent leader and communicates clearly and concisely. He is an advocate for students, and the best interest of students is the cornerstone of all of his decision making.”
As a teacher, everything was intentionally made to be about the students. As an administrator, he is learning how much support teachers actually need.
“I still focus a lot on our students but our teachers need and appreciate that kind of support as well,” said Robinson. “As a classroom teacher, I used every tool I had from building relationships to culturally relevant pedagogy. As an administrator, I’ve learned that not all teachers have the same tools, and even experienced teachers welcome an instructional leader who supports them by adding to their toolbox.”
Robinson said he misses being in the classroom every day but enjoys the challenge of building strong relationships with a school full of students as opposed to one class when he was teaching.
“Having your one group of kids for one year enables you to create family-like bonds,” said Robinson. “You also see the younger kids that are looking forward to being in your class the next year or years to come. Even the parents would get excited.”
One year while teaching at Sanders-Clyde he taught a second grade class with all boys. This was the year he realized how personal and transformational his role was. He saw a little bit of himself in each of his boys and knew he only had one shot to make the biggest impact on these boys. Not getting it right could have a negative impact on the trajectory of those boys’ lives.
“It was rewarding and successful watching the boys grow socially, emotionally, and [together] as a family that year,” said Robinson.
“Something I love about Deer Park is that we have a lot of people who are passionate about the kids that we work with,” Robinson added. “They are willing to go above and beyond to ensure that our students are being served. We also have a new principal who came in with a clear vision of what is possible at Deer Park. Not only that, but I am also amazed at the work she is doing to get us there. She has added so many new tools to my toolbox, and I know she will take Deer Park to the top. It also helps that we have so many dedicated teachers and staff on board with getting there. That says a lot about her, our teachers and staff.”
His colleagues admire Robinson. Deer Park teacher Laganna Lawrence described him as exceptional.
“He is passionate about creating relationships with our scholars to ensure their success,” said Lawrence. “He is a good listener and always gives solid feedback. His primary outlook is always, ‘What's in the best interest of our students’. He is the epitome of the district's mission: students are the heart of our work.”
Call Me MiSTER
Robinson joined the Call Me MiSTER program at Benedict College. The program, Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models, is to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader and more diverse background, particularly among the state's lowest-performing elementary schools. He is a 2017 recipient of the Call Me MiSTER Trailblazer Award.
“Call Me MiSTER (CMM) is really special for me because I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the teacher cadet program in high school,” said Robinson. “The support that CMM provided was amazing. Additionally, being a MiSTER compounded the family-oriented community we had at Benedict. The program doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage over other prospective teachers but it introduces you to resources and relationships that may not have been possible without being in the program.”
Robinson said it is rewarding to be a MiSTER in CCSD.
“Now as an administrator, I am going to college teacher recruitment fairs to help the district recruit,” said Robinson. “I love seeing fellow MiSTERS I’ve worked with or mentored over the years. It is also rewarding when I speak to them and get to see how passionate they are. I end up taking a trip down memory lane and begin to reminisce about who I was when I was in their shoes.”
“Mr. Robinson takes initiative and has a strong work ethic,” explained Deas. “He believes in communication and collaboration, and his stellar listening skills are valuable. Mr. Robinson works well in diverse groups and leads by example.”
The MiSTER caravan, hosted by the district, is one of Robinson’s highlights each year.
“I think seeing a MiSTER as an Assistant Principal on the front lines fighting for equity makes the district a lot more attractive toMiSTERs who are looking for a district to begin their careers,” said Robinson. “Equity – I feel like we want to achieve it here in Charleston and I want to see that come full circle. Being a student that could have succumbed to inequities and now as an educator and an administrator I remain committed to working with my colleagues across the district. I want to ensure that students who look like me have access to loving teachers, who are culturally competent and believe in equity.