When Greg Ramey took over as principal of C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy in Nov. 2013, he asked his staff to think back to when they were students and list the most important attributes of their favorite teachers.
The answers were pretty much what he expected. Most mentioned nothing about curriculum or teaching methods. The answers focused on a sense that their teachers cared about them and whether they succeeded.
“When I first got here we had to work on some core understandings on what it takes to work here,” Ramey said in his soft eastern Kentucky drawl. “Beyond being a great teacher, you have to make sure that you love your kids and are committed to making sure every student in your classroom can be successful.”
Ramey came to Grand Rapids from a National Blue Ribbon high school in Morehead, Kentucky, a district from which he retired. But more important to Ramey is his former school’s designation by his home state of Kentucky as a “Great Place to Work and Learn.”
“I was more proud of that than I was the National Blue Ribbon because that speaks to the culture of a school,” Ramey said. “The most important thing I do is hire great people and train those in my building to be great, and for me that means making sure people are kind, loving and caring and that the kids know they are cared for by the people in this building and that doesn’t just mean the teachers.”
Parents say Ramey has done that, and then some. Nancy Haynes, immediate past president of the school’s PTA, recalled how the K-8 school at one time was losing half its students after fifth grade to the district’s specialty schools.
Ramey’s solution was to make the school a place parents would want their kids to attend for sixth through eighth grades. To do that, he sat down last school year with a group of fifth graders and asked them what their “dream sixth grade” would be.
The answer was a new curriculum focusing on the school’s environmental theme with an eye toward college prep and fulfilling the district’s Transformation Plan which calls for at least exploring the possibility of placing a small high school in the building. Ramey calls Frost a “school where no child is left inside.”
“He knew the kind of teachers we needed to form the cornerstone of what hopefully is going to be the cornerstone of a 6-12 school,” Haynes said. “And then he went out and got them.”
Aside from his formal training via a bachelor’s degree in computers and technology from Morehead State University, Ramey spent 12 years as a camp director at Camp Miniwanca near Shelby. Perhaps it’s his familiarity with often quirky summer camp culture that creates his unique mix of meaningful wit, compassion and self-deprecating humor.
Haynes, who was on a committee charged with finding Frost’s new principal last year, said at first she questioned whether the qualifications the school was seeking in its new leader could be found in a single individual. She quickly added Ramey’s unique set of talents has shown him more than qualified to be Frost’s principal.
“Frost is kind of a unique school because while we’re committed to academics there’s also that outdoor component,” Haynes said. “When I looked at the qualifications we were asking for I wondered if it was almost too much to ask of someone, but when I met Greg I just felt that he really could do that and more.”
A walk through the school reveals a group of kids seemingly excited to learn and parents willing to help them. The school’s popularity among parents seeking high expectations for their kids is evidenced by it drawing 472 students this year, 85 more than district projections.
“We have an expectation for performance,” Ramey said. “There were a few kids who weren’t performing to their personal best, not even close, so we had to make a conscious decision to let some of them move on so we could make room for people who were willing to do that.”
The expectations apply to parents as well as students. Ramey has a creative way of making that clear.
“It’s important to me when I speak with the community to tell them I’m retired because I’m trying to make the point that I don’t need to be here,” he said. “I want to be here. I’m here for the right reasons and I want them to be here for the right reasons, too.”