Outstanding Black Alumnus: Akil Ross

2-time education graduate also named national principal of the year

Akil Ross knew he wanted to have an impact on young people’s lives even before he completed his master’s and Ph.D. in education from the University of South Carolina.

Ross was just a first-year teacher at Columbia’s Eau Claire High School when he applied to the graduate program.

“At that time, most universities required that teachers work in the classroom for a minimum of three years before joining the doctoral program, but Carolina allowed me in the program knowing that I would complete those required teaching years before earning my degree,” Ross says. “Carolina allowed me to realize my dream.”

While earning his degrees, Ross went from being a social studies teacher to being an assistant principal at nearby Chapin High School in 2005. Five years later, he was the head principal and two years after that, he completed his doctorate.

“I truly valued how the professors incorporated real world experiences in the curriculum. There were many opportunities to apply my learning to experiences I and my classmates had in our schools.

Under Ross’s leadership, Chapin High School’s graduation rate increased to 96 percent from 82 percent, with 90 percent of graduating seniors attending a two- or four-year college. Math proficiency among African-American students improved 16 points during his tenure as principal.

For his work at Chapin High School, Ross was recognized in 2018 as the National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

In his work with students, Ross looks to create an environment where students can be challenged while pursuing their own interests. He now serves as Lexington-Richland 5’s director of secondary education where he oversees all of the district’s high school principals and works to support the schools’ academic efforts.

Ross credits USC’s education faculty for immersing him in the study of equity in education where he took a deep and critical look at how race, culture and socio-economic status impacts both teaching and a child’s learning.

“Those lessons stayed with me. I still draw from them today,” Ross says. “While at Carolina, I came to realize that educators are artists with purpose and mission in our work. Our students bring their experiences, both good and bad, to the classroom. We must find a way to help them prepare for the world.

“Most important, I still rely on the relationships I have with my professors and classmates to help me in my work.”

For his work in the education field, Ross has won the 2018 Outstanding Black Alumnus Award, which is presented to a graduate who has uniquely distinguished themselves in their professional career, shown remarkable leadership capabilities and positively impacted their community.

“To have an institution as prestigious as USC honor me leaves me speechless. I am humbled and honored.”

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