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Maxine Fantroy-Ford

Although she originally planned to become a fashion designer, Maxine Fantroy-Ford took what she expected to be a short detour into art education at Saint Rose. She quickly found herself becoming a beloved art teacher and school administrator – and loving her work. Following retirement from her full-time job in education, she has fused her educational, consulting, and art expertise into creative new (ad)ventures, including serving as president and CEO of CoreInspiration Consulting, Inc.

What do you do in a typical day?

A typical day for me depends on the position I am contracted to fulfill. Over the years, I have served as an interim and substitute principal, professional development trainer, independent evaluator for teacher evaluations, and coach and mentor to new administrators. My years as a school turnaround administrator – working with principals and teachers in low performing schools – led to what I am doing now in my consulting business, CoreInspiration.

I recently completed a three-year contract as an independent monitor for the New York State Office of Attorney General to monitor the disproportionately high rate of suspensions in an urban school district. Currently, I am an independent monitor for the NYS Department of Education working with principals and teachers to implement turnaround initiatives in low-performing schools.

What else have I done? Well, I developed a substitute-teacher training program to ensure that learning continues for students in the absence of the regular classroom teacher. Often, due to unforeseen circumstances, lesson plans are not always available. Participants learn to improvise and develop classroom management skills. They walk away with a substitute-teacher toolkit and certificate of completion.

Another CoreInspiration initiative was an Athletic Wellness and Performance Program, which I co-authored with my son, Alexander Ford, D.O. The program is designed for student-athletes who desire to elevate their performance both in the classroom and during competition. Student-athletes gain a toolbox of strategies on how to balance academics and sports and develop a healthy body. A version has been created for regular (non-athlete) education students. We are currently creating a digital and social-distancing version of the program.

As you see, I have been busy!

How did you find your career path?

I originally wanted to become a fashion designer. I’m a native Albanian who went through the public school system in Albany, starting with P.S. 27 (Eagle Point Elementary). I won my first art contest in second grade. My prize was a “Curious George” book. I still collect Curious George memorabilia! In fourth grade, my painting was displayed at the State Education Department in Albany.

Every time my parents drove by Saint Rose, I would say, “Hmm. Maybe that’s a place I would like to go.” However, I wanted to go away to college – but, when the time came, my family could not afford it.

I applied to Saint Rose and majored in art education. I’ll never forget Sister Marion. One day, she told me, “You’ll make an excellent teacher.” In the back of my mind, I thought, “I’ll do art education and move on. My lifelong dream was to design clothes.”

Well, that didn’t happen!

When I graduated in 1975, art teaching jobs were scarce. I became a substitute teacher, and worked at Macy’s to pay my student loans. In September 1977, I was on vacation when I received a call from the director of HR in the City School District of Albany inviting me to interview for an art teacher position.

I was assigned to Arbor Hill Elementary School. All those nights I spent typing interdisciplinary lessons and thematic units were finally going to pay off.

And, not to brag, but my students at Arbor Hill Elementary placed in every art contest they entered!

I went to a lot of secondary student art shows to get ideas and create lessons for my students and supported them while challenging them. Everybody thinks art is just drawing. Children and adults will say, “I can’t draw!” Art is not just drawing on a piece of paper. Art is a universal language. Every year my art room was transformed. One year, it was a circus theme, and we built a miniature merry-go-round; another time a train adorned the entryway.

I encouraged my students to see themselves as creators of their own masterpieces. I would say, “Be proud of your work. Put your name in the bottom right-hand corner so everyone can see. There is no mistake in art. That’s what erasers or the back of a paper are for. A misplaced line or shape can lead to an exceptional work of art.”

In 1985, I became principal of Giffen Elementary School. Four years later, I accepted the position of director of magnet schools. Future administrator positions included director of elementary education and principal of Albany High School, my alma mater. I was fortunate to have a K-12 career.

Eventually, I returned back to Giffen, and was able to share my 9-12 experience at the elementary level, which is the academic foundation. I advocated for elementary and secondary teachers to have collegiate conversations about K-12 curricula and the student as learner.

Each leadership position prepared me for the next one. When I am working with teachers, and we are looking at curricula and discussing students, I am able to support and demonstrate how to integrate art and elements of design into core subjects.

I also believe the pandemic really highlighted the need to address the inequities that exist in education. Public school educators and policymakers have a prime opportunity to explore and maintain funding for choice programs that focus on personalized learning for students (e.g., a future virtual learning choice program for students who excel in that environment and an in-person choice program, while developing pathways to introduce all students to traditional and non-traditional careers.) Teachers make all professions possible!

What about your own art?

Unfortunately, I put my artwork aside and focused on a career in education. For the first time in a long time, I created a small art piece in March 2020 while being home during COVID-19 pause. I dedicated it to the COVID-19 individuals who lost their lives. I have to admit that I still have a couple of blank canvases in my garage.

What do you do in your spare time?

I completed my doctorate in 2009 from Nova Southeastern University. Then, I retired in 2012. I guess you can say, “semi-retired,” because I became an adjunct professor and educational consultant.

My initial plan was to return to the world of retail. In high school, fashion design was my first love and desired career. To offset my life as an educator, I enrolled in an online fashion stylist certificate program (anticipated completion date: March 2021). It’s been fun and challenging. I am definitely improving my technology skills.

Fashion stylists are consultants who make you look good. They help clients select clothing that will flatter them. Being an artist is a plus because I love to experiment with colors and fabrics. I want to add another capability to my consultant services: stylist for educators. Teachers work very hard, and often don’t have enough time to take care of themselves.

I am also looking at designing a website for my business and developing marketing strategies. I have a couple of manuscripts to complete too.

Physical exercise is very important. So, I walk, ride my bike, or work out at the gym. Crossword puzzles are a nightly ritual. I am finally having fewer blank boxes! Of course, I continue to read educational literature.

How did your time at Saint Rose help you?

As I mentioned earlier, the art education program at Saint Rose was instrumental in my career path, from teacher and administrator to adjunct professor to consultant. The education that I received influenced so many areas of my life. My years at Saint Rose increased my love for learning and appreciation for all aspects of art education.

I have fond memories of working in the art studios completing assignments, and of friendships that were formed. Recently, I reconnected with a classmate on Facebook.

You seem to love giving back.

That’s why I’m still working! I grew up seeing my parents encourage and help people. People were drawn to them. Holiday dinners always included extra seats at our table. My parents, who grew up during the Depression, were only able to complete the eighth grade, but they knew the value of an education.

My mother was a Girl Scout assistant leader. She was great at spelling and loved art. My father was the treasurer of the PTA. He was a math wizard who would say, “There’s more than one way to solve a math problem.” We would sit around the dining room table, and he would guide us through solving a math equation or word problem.

They are now deceased and would be very proud of my son, who is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Registered Dietician/Nutritionist. He is doing his residency program at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Each generation should be better than the previous generation. In my family getting an education was the goal. My father would say, “Get an education, and no one can take it away from you.”

He would end by saying, “If you’re going to shine shoes, be the best! Leave a legacy.”

By Irene Kim