Eveyr month, DCSN puts the spotlight on one of our hard-working charter school teachers in our newsletter The Ripple. This month we interviewed Anthony Stanziale, a middle school English & Language Arts teacher at EastSide Charter School in Wilmington. He is also a 2006 Charter School of Wilmington alumnus. Anthony spoke with us about his experiences at these two schools, the crucial role of schools like Charter School of Wilmington and EastSide in Delaware's education landscape, and his opinion on some of the controversial issues within the charter school movement. Thanks for sharing your voice with us, Anthony!
You attended Charter School of Wilmington – what about the school’s culture, academics, and model helped you to succeed in college and in life?
I graduated the Charter School of Wilmington in 2006 with a Distinguished Diploma. From my middle school years onward, I appreciated Charter’s focus on academics as well as their state and national rank based on their school / student performance. I was always a career and success – driven student who wanted to push to achieve the maximum that I could. Charter’s unique focus on academics, in the realm of highly rigorous, targeted, and differentiated classes, both AP and elective, made my transition to college that much easier. I was supported in my academics through unique course selection and alignment of course rigor to my strengths and weaknesses. I was able to “phase” into higher or lower level classes depending on my initial placement scores, in-class performance, and my counseling sessions with Donna Urban (school counselor). I was able to create a unique schedule that was conducive to my interests and my academic prowess.
What was your perception of charter schools when you were a student and how has it changed now that you are a teacher in a charter school?
I believed, when I was younger, that charter schools were the “best of the best” in the state and truly a pleasure to attend. After working at Eastside Charter for two years now, this notion still holds true. I taught at a public district school for three years before I came to Eastside Charter in 2013. Our school services 89% Title 1 students, 98% African American and 2% Hispanic students, and has a racially and economically diverse community of support. In my two years at Eastside, I have reaffirmed my belief in the charter school agenda. Charter schools are not just “high performers” and “exclusive” schools. Eastside is far from that. Wilmington Charter is far from that. Instead, it is the mission of a charter school to support their students, no matter how they come to them, and provide a focused, intense, and rigorous curriculum in order to prepare them for the real world.
It is not just about the “college” acceptance at the end of high school. Many of our students do not aspire to go directly to college. Instead, charter schools help to provide meaningful experiences both in school and out (through Study Abroad programs, Community Service projects, and Authentic Learning Showcases) in order to teach the WHOLE student. The role of a charter school, in my experience, is to CREATE the culture. Wilmington Charter and Eastside Charter were able to do this from the bottom up, starting with attention and care to the whole student. We are invested in their interests and their struggles – at home and in school. We support their different learning styles, perspectives on subjects, and give them a voice inside our room. More importantly, we stress academics as a way to promote positive work ethic and character development. We push for peer collaboration and communication in order to prepare them for real life. We don’t just prepare them for the college entrance exam, but the job interview at the department store, the summer internship at a local shelter, and the one on one interaction with a new coworker. Charter schools help prepare our students for the real world, one in which we prepare them to grab by the horns and guide in their own direction.
EastSide has seen tremendous growth over the past 3 years, despite the fact that the school works with a population that is traditionally underserved. What about the school’s culture, academics, and model has promoted this incredible growth? Can you draw any parallels between the way Charter operates and the way EastSide operates?
Our growth at Eastside can be attributed to our immense dedication as a staff to the craft of teaching, the constant push to be “better” than yesterday, and the promise we make to be the best every day for our students. Our students come to us with a variety of needs and deficiencies, both academic and emotional. Ninety-five percent of the “fight” we tackle head-on is outside of the classroom. We are constantly trying, as a staff, to improve our practice, our methods, and our approach to really teach the whole student. It is very rare that there is a “perfect” day at our school. That is unrealistic for any school. We as a staff don’t want things to be “perfect” either. If all of our students were emotionally constant, high performers, and all reading and writing on grade level, our jobs would be meaningless. I know when people ask me why I work at Eastside, I say it is because there is a real “need” for teachers like me; like the staff that I have. We are all dedicated to help each child that enters our room. Yes, there are times when state testing standards become glaringly obvious and our day-to-day interactions in the room make us tired and put us at a loss. But we come back from that much stronger and with more resolve, because we know we can do better. And our students deserve the best.
Our focus this year is on culture, and creating a culture that mixes character education with academic education. For many of us, there is fear of failure. Failure by state testing standards. Failure by the “mark” of “proficiency” or “unsatisfactory” ratings handed down by the state. But is it a failure if we reach our students emotionally, making them trust an adult for the first time in 10 years? Or to instill a love of reading in a student who, up until last year, was constantly sent from school to school for extreme behavior issues and failing grades? I don’t think so. Our crystal clear vision and mission, to “empower all students to understand who they are and their role in the world as a means of helping them to develop the academic skills and habits, self- confidence, and self and social awareness needed to achieve success in their personal and professional lives” drives us every day. It is what inspires students to believe we as teachers are not just their 7a – 3:30p supervisors. We are in this WITH them. They are part of our culture. They are the pulse of the school. It is this student-centered model that stuck with me from CSW that I admire – the relentless dedication to students, no matter what their path may be.
Some people perceive Charter School of Wilmington as “elitist” because it holds extremely high expectations for its students, and the school has been accused of “creaming the crop” by selecting only the “smart” students to receive the preference to gain admission. Others believe that we should be holding these same high expectations for all of our students, and that the problem lies in the fact that our elementary and middle schools are not preparing students for that high level of rigor. As a middle school teacher, do you believe that all of your students have the potential to succeed at a school like Charter? And what are you doing in your classroom to tap that potential and close the gaps?
I believe that the perception of Charter students as the “cream of the crop” is painted more in a negative light than in a positive one. They, to me, are the “cream of the crop,” but in the respect that they are what you make them. Not everyone accepted to CSW is at the top of their class. In fact, they are far from that. My brother, Chris, was accepted to CSW in 2005 and was far from the top of his class. I was even far from the top of my class.
In my classroom, I am less concerned about the random, statistically designed and designated number assigned to students at the completion of their DCAS assessment. I am less concerned with the teacher bonus awarded at the end of the year for “high performance”. I, instead, am concerned whether my students love reading and more importantly, love learning. I started the year off with my new character education curriculum that I developed based on Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. When I started the year, I thought to myself, “Am I really forgoing academics for 2 months to teach character education? What about the state test? Will I be rated effective?” As the first trimester went on, I realized that none of that mattered. Seeing my students develop a love for school, a trust in the process, and a sense of community in my room and outside in the greater community affirmed that our system needs to change. We need to stop viewing kids as numbers and data points, and look at their bright spots. We need to realize they have a voice and it needs to be shared.
My students presented their learning in an authentic showcase called “The Pursuit of Me” on October 24 at the school. One hundred and twenty-five parents, family, and friends attended and heard their students’ future goals and aspirations. They saw their vision boards, which detailed the students’ career pathways and current action steps to get there. They heard their “why I write” poems and cried as students who did not have a voice spoke their uninhibited “truth” – the good, the bad, the struggles, and the triumphs. They participated in a high school career fair, and watched their students practice key interview skills and advocate for their future school placement. They learned what it means to develop your character and how you can sustain a lifestyle based in the “7 habits”. They learned what true learning is. I have never been more proud of my students, and from this dayI realized what my role as an educator is: It is not to give countless quizzes and tests and measure growth on core standards every lesson. It is not to maintain high rigor and push for HS readiness every minute. It is to accept students where they are (highs and lows) and hold them to high standards. To give them Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th grade, knowing they are 9th and 10th grade level texts, and prepare students with the skills in which to decode and analyze them. To give my 7th graders “Where I Come From” by George Ella Lyon (an 11th grade level text) and have them read it through the archetypal lens of a 12th grader. Finally it is my job to promote learning and a love of reading side by side. This is how I prepare my students for high school, college, and beyond, and I have no regrets, because the results are real.
As a charter school alumnus and teacher, why is the charter school movement important in Delaware’s education landscape?
The charter school movement is important in Delaware and across the US because it provides options for our students. For years, especially when I was growing up, it was typical for students to go to their feeder school. There were few options with charter schools in Delaware, and even less differentiation in learning. Charter schools provide specific career and character focuses for students, meet student needs through their program design and mission, and are whole-heartedly “in it” for the students. In 3-5 years, I want to follow in Eastside’s footsteps and open an exclusively Title 1, inner city High School to expand Eastside’s campus. I believe that our student population (as well as the population in other schools) needs this going forward. I am tired of hearing the ‘dropout’ stories and statistics. I am even more exhausted hearing about those teachers and leaders that ignore the data or make excuses. Charter schools are the movement to provide support for our students – the top performing, the middle of the road, and the low performing. Charter schools give students a chance at taking hold of their education and their future. We need more of this going forward. Our students are our future and are the hope of their generation, why not foster their light?
Anthony Stanziale is a middle school English & Language Arts teacher at EastSide Charter School in Wilmington. He has taught in inner-city schools for the last five years, with the last two spent at EastSide. Anthony graduated from Charter School of Wilmington in 2006. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 2010 with a Distinguished Diploma and was awarded Student Teacher of the Year for English and Language Arts. He is currently continuing his education at the University of Delaware, as we works towards his Master of Education degree in Teacher Leadership. Anthony is looking to move into the Director of Middle School Curriculum and Development role for English and Language Arts at EastSide in the 2015-2016 school year.