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Teaching pays off

Inspiring 8th-grade teacher at Richmond’s Lucille M. Brown Middle School wins $25,000 national ‘Oscars of teaching’ award

11/17/2017, 6:49 p.m.
The mystery and hush filling the gymnasium at Richmond’s Lucille M. Brown Middle School on Wednesday morning became a cacophony ...
Ryan James, the 29-year-old middle school teacher and winner of the $25,000 Milken Educator Award, is congratulated after Wednesday’s surprise announcement by Lucille M. Brown, former Richmond Public Schools superintendent. The South Side school where Mr. James teaches is named in her honor. Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

His Standards of Learning Civics class has achieved a 92 percent pass rate for 2016-17, which is 10 points above the school district average and a 7 percentage point gain over the previous year, officials said.

He also leads the school’s International Baccalaureate program for advanced and gifted students, serves as a mentor to new teachers and leads professional development for history and civics teachers.

In addition to his classroom duties, the James Madison University graduate also guides students as the assistant coach for the Panthers’ girls’ and boys’ basketball teams.

He takes students on college visits and exposes them to opportunities to help them think about their future.

“I know all about Ryan James,” Mr. Milken told the Free Press after the ceremony. “I have been looking at his teaching techniques, his mentoring other teachers, as well as his investment into this community.”

“I think it is absolutely critical to have men teaching,” he continued. “A recent report stated that when children have male teachers, especially African-American students with African-American male teachers, they perform at a higher level.”

Mr. James is the 44th Virginia educator to win the award. Ten previous winners from the commonwealth attended the ceremony.

Also attending were Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney; Richmond’s interim Schools Superintendent Thomas E. “Tommy” Kranz; Dr. Steven R. Staples, state Superintendent of Public Instruction; Dan Gecker, president of the state Board of Education; 4th District School Board member Jonathan Young; and Dr. Lucille M. Brown, the former Richmond Public Schools superintendent for whom the South Side middle school is named.

“I think it is very significant that a young man, a young African-American man, has received this award,” Dr. Brown said after the ceremony. “Our young men teachers are models. And Ryan, standing here this morning, is telling the student body that if you give it your best, you can be anything you want to be.”

Eighth-grader Jermain Williams called Mr. James his favorite teacher.

“He is a great history teacher and not like other teachers,” the young man said. “He comes up with his own methods of teaching, using attention-getters that make it a fun way of learning.”