Ohio’s only single-gender public high school uses structure, mentoring to help at-risk young men succeed

When Ted Ginn Sr. graduated from Glenville High School in 1974, little did he know that he would someday start a public school that would take at-risk young men and give them a regimented education — and what he simply calls love — to help them succeed.

But the desire to reach these students has been on Ginn’s mind for a long time.

“That had always been in my head, and I was not seeing things that should have been happening,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that our kids got a proper shot. Love is shown anyway you give kids what they need to be successful. Every day we tell them we love them, we give them what they need. We spend time with them, and we have a relationship with them.”

Ginn’s first laboratory where he perfected his mentoring structure was his home. His son, Ted Ginn Jr., who went on to be an Ohio State University standout and is now a wide receiver with the Carolina Panthers, got what he needed to be successful.

“Conventional thinking was just not good enough; you’ve got to know who you’re talking to,” Ginn says. “So whatever he needed, I made sure he got it.”

Two years after he graduated, Ginn became a security guard at the high school and a volunteer coach of the football team, the Glenville Tarblooders. He mentored his charges with love, passion, understanding and trust. The Tarblooders have been a perennial powerhouse, and in 2009 became the first Cleveland Public school to land in the State Finals in OHSAA playoff history.

Male-only academy
Ginn Academy opened in 2007 as the only single-gender, public high school in Ohio. The goal was to create the same type of school within a school Ginn had established at Glenville High with his football players. Ginn took the responsibility for 50 to 60 men, taking attendance and setting schedules.

He could see that his style of mentoring showed promise, and he wanted to open a charter school. The love and discipline was working, along with an absence of distractions — women, for one, Ginn says. Rather than launch a charter school, Ginn sought out CEO Eugene Sanders and presented his proposal. Sanders liked the idea and talked about new and innovative schools.

“Mine was one of the first alternative schools he approved,” Ginn says.

He is proud of the school’s graduation rate, which is between 97 and 98 percent.

“Failing is not the issue here,” Ginn says. “If you fail here, you worked at failing.”

Life coaches
Students know that someone at Ginn Academy always has their back. Each student has his own mentor, on call 24 hours a day, should emergencies arise. These are full-time life coaches who are on staff. Students, who have to apply for admission, come from all over the Cleveland area because of the district’s open admission policy.

A dress code calls for uniforms of black dress pants, a white shirt, red blazer, and a grade-level designated necktie or bow tie.

Ginn Academy is an open admission school located at 655 E. 162nd St. and only draws a small number of parents who offer volunteer support. But the local community, including Ward 8 Councilman Michael Polensek, is a big supporter.

Ginn Academy has been recognized by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for steps such as starting a cooking club and holding “salad days.” The academy won a bronze National Healthy Schools Award. The Friends of Ginn Academy raised money to obtain a water fountain for access to clean drinking water.

At the academy, students choose one of the following career paths: Education and human service; law and global policy; or international business and communications.

Students who are athletes play on Glenville High teams. Many of Ginn’s football players landed at Ohio State to play for the Buckeyes, including Troy Smith, a Heisman trophy winner and Donte Whitner, formerly with the Cleveland Browns.

Ginn readily admits he is proud of all his students, but the story of James Gordon really resonates. Gordon started at Ginn Academy as a sophomore in 2007 and graduated as the valedictorian of the class of 2010. He received a full athletic scholarship at the University of Toledo and graduated with a degree in communications.

He returned to Ginn Academy to serve as a life coach with a group of 26 freshmen — and now he’s the first alumni to teach at the school.

“This is his first year. His is one of the biggest success stories here,” Ginn says.