After graduating, Ingram returned to Miami-Dade County and took a $33,000 job as director of the Lake Stevens Middle School band. He later taught at Booker T Washington and Miami Carol City senior high schools.
In the early 2000s, he hosted a band camp for kids who couldn’t afford one. He also showed devotion to his co-workers.
Valencia Gabriel, a special education reading and math teacher who taught alongside Ingram, said he taught her three children to play tuba, clarinet and saxophone. And when her husband died, he visited her house every Saturday and sat with her and her children for hours.
“He gave me his time, and he didn’t have to,” said Gabriel, 43. “He kept me going.”
Ingram’s work and reputation won him Miami-Dade teacher-of-the-year honors in 2005. With the award comes a quasi-spokesman role for teachers, so he began to interact with politicians and district leaders. He met his union predecessor, Karen Aronowitz, who at the time was in her first term, and leading the financially weak union past the downfall of disgraced longtime union boss Pat Tornillo, who’d used union funds to support a lavish lifestyle.
“He represents the future of our union,” Aronowitz said. “He brings a fresh voice to the issues affecting teachers and educational support professionals.”
He also brings a powerful voice, and a strong public persona, where Aronowitz acknowledges she was “green” when she became president in 2004. Aronowitz declined to run for reelection this winter, and endorsed Ingram, her secretary/treasurer.
When Ingram joined the union’s leadership and left the classroom, some found it bittersweet. But Stephanie King, a retiree who helped select Ingram as teacher of the year, said his ascension has been for the better.
“There’s so many things we want the union to become. And I see great hope in him serving in that capacity,” she said. “I think we need him.”
Ingram comes into power at a critical juncture. A new evaluation system becomes the basis for pay and employment in 2014. Healthcare and salaries are on the table. And Carvalho has made it clear he is against the longstanding “step” pay scale, which rewards educators based on length of tenure rather than job performance.
Ingram also has his critics, who were emboldened in February when the election he won was marred by malfunctioning equipment. The process took more than 36 hours, and afterward teachers sent out pictures of vote counters with pens in their hands and questioned vote tallies that showed more votes cast at some schools than actual voters.
Ingram isn’t interested in talking about fractures in the union: “Politicians would love to see us fight each other,” he said.
But he’s done well in the past with winning over opponents.
In 2001, Ingram made a rough first impression with then-state Rep. Frederica Wilson, who was so incensed with his band’s dancing at a Orlando competition that witnesses said she ran onto the field and berated Ingram.
Wilson was unavailable for an interview, but her staff confirmed that the two are now friends.
Gabriel said teachers expect big things from Ingram, based on his past.
“People didn’t expect him to make it — a kid from the projects; he stuttered; he had this great adversity,” she said. “He wasn’t supposed to be where he is today, and he made it. That’s the story.”