Kent ISD — Ron Gorman believes every student can accomplish what they set their minds to, and said he often told his own students just that.
Those words would come back to him when he read in a news article that one of his first students had become a doctor.
“‘You never know when a scholar is going to take a nugget that you put out there,” Gorman said. “I sometimes reflect on scholars who hear negative things and whether it follows them throughout their academic journey. She took something positive that was said one day and she referenced it when she received her (degree).”
After serving Grand Rapids Public Schools for 25 years, Gorman joined the Kent ISD team this summer as its new assistant superintendent of instructional services.
Superintendent Ron Koehler noted that Gorman’s history with Kent ISD’s largest district brings deep experience working with historically marginalized populations to increase student performance and graduation rates.
“We look forward to his leadership, especially as we work to overcome the lost learning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Koehler said.
Champion for the Underdog
Gorman said he has always rooted for the underdog. In fact, he’s a longtime season ticket holder to the Detroit Lions because he truly believes that “someday they will make Michigan proud,” he said with a smile.
He holds that same belief in students, often in those who lack credits to graduate. He does this, he said, because he was that student.
Gorman came to the U.S. in 1979 from Glasgow, Scotland, with his mother. Like his grandparents and aunt before them, his mother was searching for better employment opportunities. He entered Godfrey Elementary, in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, at age 5. His early school experience was “pretty good,” he recalled, but in middle school he got sidetracked.
“I was the young man in the building with some behavioral challenges, and those behavioral challenges … went all the way through high school. I found myself a senior in high school having to make up a tremendous amount of credits to even graduate on time.”
He made up those missing credits at night school and graduated from Lee High School in 1991. He mentioned former football coach, Ted Hollern, for instilling confidence, and former teacher and then-Lee High School Principal Pete Foote, who Gorman said was the first person to tell him he should go to college.
‘I believe in a growth mindset. I don’t think it is a catchy slogan, I truly believe that when we … face adversity, if we dust ourselves off and try again, I think our likelihood of being successful is significant.’– Ron Gorman, Kent ISD assistant superintendent of instructional services
He quickly discovered he did not like working in manufacturing, and was not ready for college, so he joined the Army. He served for eight years as an equipment, records and parts specialist, where he dispatched vehicles to soldiers, using that time to reflect on what he wanted to do with his life.
“Even though I didn’t do well in secondary school, I always felt very comfortable in school,” Gorman recalled. “So I decided, when I got out I was going to go back to Grand Rapids Community College, and then I was going to hopefully transfer to a school that had an elementary education program and become an elementary teacher. That was my goal.”
He would graduate with a bachelor’s in education from Aquinas College and landed his first teaching job as a second-grade teacher at Grand Rapids Eastern Elementary School.
Gorman would continue to grow as a teacher, moving to Iroquois Middle, then as an administrator, as athletic director and principal at Grand Rapids Central High, and principal at Sherwood Park Global Academy and Creston High.
‘When we put our minds to things’
Gorman sees his time at Creston as one of his most rewarding. He said Creston was a school that previously had never made adequate yearly progress, a measurement used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine how student performance according to the No Child Left Behind Act.
Three out of the four years Gorman was principal, Creston was able to meet or exceed state academic standards.
“I believe in a growth mindset,” he said. “I don’t think it is a catchy slogan; I truly believe that when we put our minds to things and we don’t quit in the face of adversity… When we face adversity, if we dust ourselves off and try again I think our likelihood of being successful is significant.
“I have seen many scholars throughout the years who have thrown in the towel and they have quit, and I have seen scholars throughout the years who have failed, reflected, made adjustments and ultimately achieved their goals.”
His success at Creston led Gorman to be tapped to become GRPS executive director of secondary schools, and then assistant superintendent. During his tenure GRPS improved its graduation rate from 44 percent to the state average of 80 percent in a 10-year period.
Time for Something New
Because of the opportunities to lead from former GRPS administrator Ed Shalhoup and Superintendent Teresa Weatherall, Gorman was selected as interim superintendent during GRPS’ most recent superintendent search.
“It was very tempting to apply for the position, but I decided not to at the time,” he said. “I have a young family, my wife is an educator, and it just wasn’t the right time to pursue the superintendency.”
Gorman had no intention of leaving GRPS, he said, but once the district had a new superintendent and things were returning to some normalcy amid the pandemic, he saw it was time for something new.
“After my 25th year, I still have a tremendous amount of energy. So what’s next?”
In his new role at Kent ISD, Gorman has found an opportunity to explore different educational programs in Kent County such as early childhood, career and technical education, Kent Career Tech Center and MySchool@Kent, which all fall under the assistant superintendent of instructional services.
“I do not believe there has been enough emphasis placed on CTE, and it is an incredible, viable option for our scholars,” he said. “With early childhood, I get to see in this role what happens to scholars before they enter the traditional pre K-12 program, and with the CTE experience I get to see them at the end of the journey.”
He already has hit the ground running, forming the Student Leadership Community. Made up of students in grades 9-12 from across Kent County, the aim is to hear directly from them and to help guide programming.
He also plans a “state of the student” event in October to share what is happening at Kent ISD and the intermediate district’s strategic plan, as well as to learn what community members think needs improvement.
Like his mentors, Gorman thinks educators are there to encourage students to achieve, even and especially when they are ready to give up.
“I am here not because I exclusively put my mind to it. I’m here because someone else helped me put my mind to it.”