Dr. Suzanne Street and Dr. DeAngello EleyApr 12, 2023 01:02PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
As educators in the Appoquinimink School District, Townsend Elementary School Principal Dr. Suzanne Street and Appoquinimink High School Assistant Principal Dr. Deangello Eley champion the principles of modern education. Middletown Life recently caught up with both educators to learn more about their principles for learning, leadership, STEM education, and their vision for the future of K-12 education in the United States.
Middletown Life: You both recently graduated from the prestigious Governor’s Institute for School Leadership (GISL), which is designed to equip promising school vice principals with the tools to become transformational principals. What were some of the tools that you were introduced to at the 12-month program?
Street: There were many topics throughout the program that provided us with an opportunity to grow as we prepared for our first role as building principal. One of our monthly sessions last summer focused on creating effective instructional programs. The focus that was of particular value was how we could bring our vision to life in instructional programs.
In the Appoquinimink School District, we are able to focus on student data to help drive instructional decisions both school wide and at the grade and classroom levels.
Eley: Although I was already familiar with the PSEL Standards (Professional Standards for Educational Leaders), the GISL program refocused my attention on the importance of using these standards to guide my leadership and decision-making.
For example, PSEL #1: Mission, Vision, and Values are the roadmap my learning organization will follow. You can’t get to where you want to go without a plan. You can’t improve student outcomes without a plan. Fail to plan, plan to fail.
In what ways have you begun to incorporate these skills into your current roles? In other words, what’s new about how your approach your respective positions?
Street: When looking at our school-wide data, we decided it would be important to provide academic challenges for our students that are specifically tailored to their individual needs. To do this, we have used online platforms that extend student learning in both reading and math. It is our hope that these challenges will inspire our students to have a love for learning while pushing themselves individually to do more than what is required.
Eley: I’ve sharpened my lens to be more intentional about my actions and interactions with students, staff members, and other stakeholders. My actions and decisions should always reflect our core values. For example, when I praise staff members, I do my best to connect the praise to our core values.
Leadership is often infectious, particularly when it is introduced to impressionable young people who are seeking identity and definition. In what ways is leadership being taught in the district, as a component of an effective education?
Street: We provide students with leadership opportunities that promote their personal growth and development and strengthen the school community as a whole. Two of these opportunities are for our older students. In 4th grade, students have the opportunity to participate in the safety patrol. This allows them to learn about safety protocols as well as develop teamwork and problem-solving skills. They also become role models for younger peers by demonstrating good behavior and making sure everyone follows the rules. Students in 5th grade run the live broadcast morning news program that helps them develop their public speaking, writing, and organizational skills.
Eley: In our building, we have created opportunities to empower students to lead in their areas of interest. For example, in addition to our various affinity groups such as Black Student Union, ASPIRA, YELL Club, and SGA, we developed a group called the Principal Liaison Advisors (PLA), a group of student leaders who serve as the voice for all students, serve as the link between the high school student body and the principal, and actively collaborate with others to positively impact the school community.
Another example is the upcoming 2nd Annual Black Student Union Summit at St. George’s Technical High School, where I helped plan a round table discussion between students and district stakeholders regarding the implementation of Delaware’s new Black History Education law.
Were you born and raised with the key components of leadership, or have you developed and nurtured them over your life? Take us down that educational road, if you will.
Street: I have developed my leadership style throughout my life. Many components of leadership that I find valuable are things I learned during my time as a Division I athlete at the University of Delaware, as a high school coach, and in my time as an administrator. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to work for a variety of great leaders in the Appoquinimink School District. Additionally, my course work as I studied for both my Masters and Doctorate had courses that focused on leadership.
Eley: I believe that people are born with natural leadership qualities. At the same time, life experiences nurture and shape effective leadership skills. One of the most important components of an effective leader is character. Your life experiences are deposits in your bank of character. You make withdrawals when you face adversity.
Let’s talk about the personal journeys you experienced that led you to pursue careers in education. Who – or what – served as inspiration for you to become educators?
Street: My mother, who was an elementary school teacher, was my inspiration to choose education as my career. I have always loved working with children and believe that now more than ever education is the key to student success later in life. I consider myself a sponge for knowledge and am always looking for opportunities to grow and develop. I hope that my leadership style fosters this same love for learning in students and staff at Townsend Elementary School.
Eley: My journey into the field of education was not traditional. I started my career as a paralegal then with the State of Delaware as a Hearing Officer with the Family Court.
Then I became Criminal Justice instructor at the high school I graduated from, Sussex Technical High School. My supervising AP, Mr. Firch, inspired me to become a building leader because of his ability to connect with me on a personal level.
I took on various leadership roles as a teacher, and was then selected as the Dean of Students, then Assistant Principal. In addition, my experience working under Principal Dr. John Demby was inspirational and ignited my desire to lead a building.
In your own opinion, in what components of K-12 education are U.S. schools most excelling at, when compared to countries, and why?
Street: I believe the K-12 education system has worked hard to begin developing diverse curriculums to address students from diverse backgrounds and students with social and emotional needs. We have also worked to provide diverse libraries for students to access both in the classroom and in school libraries. We have also created multiple opportunities to provide students with access to technology and STEM education.
Eley: As a former CTE instructor working at a vocational high school, I understand the importance of developing and maintaining partnerships with our local business partners. They expressed the need for our students to possess solid hard skills, workforce readiness, and employability skills.
In the Appoquinimink School District, we emphasize and invest in both traditional academic courses such as 29 Advanced Placement courses, as well as building partnerships with our local community and business partners to find out what skills they are looking for in our graduates.
The texts in our high-quality instructional materials provide students with authentic examples of written and oral communication, such as professional writing and speechwriting. These examples provide students with models of effective communication and help them understand how to apply the skills and strategies they are learning in real-world contexts.
In your own opinion and in contrast, in what components of K-12 education are U.S. schools most lagging behind in their progress, and why?
Street: As a country we still need to work on closing achievement gaps.
Eley: Without reviewing those specific studies and data, I do believe STEM education has a place in our education system. At the same time, there should be a balance between traditional academic learning opportunities and career and technical education.
For a long time, the message was work smarter, not harder, and that you have to go to college to be successful. That’s no longer the case. There are many blue-collar jobs that remain unfilled because we lack a skilled labor force. I believe our society needs young people that both work smart and work hard.
While U.S. K-12 education continues to place a strong emphasis on a STEM education, study after study reveals that the writing ability of our nation’s students continues to rank at or near the bottom of the proficiency spectrum. What is happening here, and what is being done in the Appoquinimink School District to place emphasis on the power to communicate well?
Street: Within our curriculum, students in K-5 are writing across multiple genres. They begin in K-2 with learning the writing process that builds from three highly effective scaffolded steps (plan, draft, edit). These steps are taught through a gradual release in scaffolding over a set of six lessons that includes teacher modeling, group practice, independent practice and independent application. By using this approach, it allows for continued support as needed.
In grade 3, students learn a five-step writing process (plan, draft, revise, edit, publish) with scaffolding as needed. In grades 4-5, students learn seven steps of the writing process (plan, draft, share, evaluate, revise, edit, publish). The big shift in grades 3-5 is that the children can move back and forth between components of the writing process in a flexible manner, what we want mature writers to be able to do.
Eley: As learning organizations, the product we deliver is learning. We have a responsibility to our local communities and society to produce well rounded citizens that add value to society. To meet the diverse needs of our community and businesses, we must diversify learning opportunities.
Let’s peer into the crystal ball of the future of K-12 education in the U.S. How will the curriculum reflect these changes, and where do you predict these edicts come from? Will new components of education replace the traditional? What will it all look like?
Street: The Appoqunimink School District prides itself on creating lifelong learners who will be prepared think critically, communicate (both orally and in writing), collaborate, and adapt to the needs around them. Students regularly participate in student to student discourse. We also continue to provide opportunities for students to be diverse learners by immersing them in the arts, world languages, at STEM activities.
This will foster a generation of more diverse and culturally competent community members.
Eley: As the saying goes, the only constant is change. As a learning organization, we must embrace and engage in continuous improvement to meet the needs of our students and our community. As a leader, I am expected to foster an environment that embraces change and promotes lifelong learning.
As long as we build capacity in our teachers and students and foster an environment that embraces risk taking and innovation, I believe we can meet the needs of the future.
What is your favorite spot in the Middletown area?
Street: I love Townsend Elementary School and all of the wonderful things we are doing as a school community. Coming to work each day brings me a sense of joy and I am proud to be a Thunderbird.
Eley: 1861 Restaurant and the Amish Market.
You are throwing your own individual dinner parties. Who would you like to see around that dinner table? They can be living or not, and famous or not.
Street: Family will always come first for me, so I would love to have the opportunity to spend and evening with my family who are located throughout the country and also those who are no longer living. I would love to have the opportunity for my daughter to meet her great grandparents and grandfather who passed away before she was born.
Eley: Since moving to Middletown from Sussex County, I don’t get to see my family and friends as often as I’d like, so I would love to spend as much time with them as possible.
What item can always be found in your refrigerator?
Eley: Condiments. I love condiments, like BBQ sauce and Washington, D.C. Mambo Sauce.
- Richard L. Gaw