Ralph Bland Sets a New Standard for Education in Detroit
As CEO of New Paradigm for Education – and with an extensive background in education – Bland is helping to change children's lives through rigorous academics and student support
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Long before Ralph Bland became the CEO of New Paradigm for Education, a charter management company in Detroit, he was a student at Kentucky State University who, while in the middle of student teaching, almost turned his back on a career in education.
"It was my time to take over the class (and) give some instruction, and I just said, 'I'm not interested in this,'" Bland says. "I don't think this is going to excite me."
However, instead of giving up, Bland, who was a football player, found a way to incorporate his love of the game into classroom curriculum to create engaging lesson plans and activities for his students.
"I created these chants that we used to do in football to phonics," Bland says. "So the class started getting excited, I started getting excited – we started saying the phonic sounds for different letters."
And that did the trick. Bland was hooked on education.
Today, the Detroit native and dad – he and his wife have a son and daughter, ages 9 and 11 – is using his experience and enthusiasm to help change the landscape of education in Detroit.
He spends his days monitoring the operations of the four charter schools that operate under New Paradigm for Education: Detroit Edison Public School Academy (DEPSA), DEPSA Early College of Excellence, New Paradigm Glazer Academy and New Paradigm Loving Academy.
"We have a saying that's, 'What gets monitored, gets done. What gets monitored closely, gets done well' – so we want to make sure that we're doing that," Bland says.
Bland's road to his position as CEO of a charter management company started right here in Detroit, where he grew up before moving out of state for college. After graduating from Kentucky State in 1986, Bland returned to the city to do some substitute teaching.
He went from subbing to mentoring young men. And soon after, Ray Johnson, an education consultant in Detroit and then-principal of Paul Robeson Academy, approached him about an opportunity with the school, which was one of three schools that Detroit Public Schools was preparing to open.
Bland began subbing at the school, but was asked to teach first grade the following year. He wasn't sure he could, and told Johnson so.
"He said, 'Well, the parents trust you, your face, they see you every day – and we really need somebody that when the students go to first grade, that the parents are going to be OK with.'"
With a bit of coaching, Bland was ready to take on first grade – a job he took very seriously. He even worked at the school on weekends.
"That was my routine every Sunday, to go to the school – maybe early in the morning or after church – and stay two or three hours, work on my plans, draw graphs and different things around the room, practice my lessons and my chanting."
Bland poured his all into working with the kids and, over time, his leadership skills and responsibility grew.
Bland transitioned to community resource director at Detroit Edison Public School Academy in 1998 – where he stayed for two years.
To further expand his leadership roles, Bland relocated to Inkster schools to work as the principal in the district's middle school.
"I really put my heart and soul into that school," Bland says. "Inkster was a different situation – more challenges in the community and with the students."
In an effort to change the school culture, Bland began holding daily school assemblies to set the tone for the day. He stayed in Inkster for two years and finally decided to leave when he was presented an opportunity to return to DEPSA.
But before leaving Inkster, Bland held a student-only assembly to inform the kids of his decision to resign as principal.
"I wanted them to know that I wasn't walking out on them. It was just that important to me, and that no matter what somebody says after this moment, that that is not true – I did not walk out on you."
Students were so important to him, and while he had a difficult time leaving, returning to DEPSA set the stage for Bland to impact thousands of kids – and families.