RePublic is thrilled to welcome Charles Stanley as the founding principal of Smilow Collegiate, Mississippi’s first public charter elementary school. The school will open its doors in Jackson in August 2018.
Mr. Stanley, a native of Greenville, North Carolina, who moved to Lebanon, Tennessee, to complete his high school career, understands the challenges of navigating the public education system in the American South firsthand. A product of Tennessee public schools himself, and one of eight siblings, Charles was accustomed to excelling. He earned A’s and B’s in his courses, and, outside of the classroom, sought opportunities to be involved in a variety of extracurricular and community service-oriented activities. From a young age, he felt fortunate to have adults and peers alike champion his potential to achieve great things in life.
Charles entered his freshman year at Vanderbilt University ready to take on the world - and, like many of the scholars we serve in Nashville and Jackson, found himself humbled by the rigor of the academic expectations of a top-tier university. Though he’d felt successful throughout his high school experience, it took tremendous personal effort - and the support of a network of professors and peers that he cultivated - to adjust to a very different set of academic and social expectations.
Mr. Stanley credits his decision to pursue leadership in the K-12 space to this experience. “My first semester of college was when I knew I wanted to provide as many kids as possible with the rigorous public education that I realized I didn’t have. When scholars at Smilow Collegiate earn competitive grades, those grades will mean something. They will be reflective of scholars’ hard work, and they will signal that our children are prepared to persist on their journeys to and through college.” This message - that scholars have the potential to attend and graduate from the college or university of their choice - is one incoming scholars and families will hear from the day they step foot in RePublic’s flagship elementary school in Jackson.
The launch of Smilow Collegiate is historic. For the first time in recent Mississippi history, families of elementary school-aged children in Jackson will have a free, non-academically selective choice when selecting a public school for children embarking on their inaugural school experience. This, says Stanley, is what inspires him most about leading this charge.
“Our school will give families a yet unparalleled opportunity to evaluate whether the primary school to which they are zoned is the best option for their child. They will get to determine whether a school is a great fit for their individual scholar, and, if they so choose, they will have a free, high-quality, public alternative. There are some families who have the financial means to pursue other options, but now, we will be able provide this same freedom - free of cost - to all families in Jackson right out of the gate. This is not just about providing a great elementary school option. It’s about setting the expectation that our families in Mississippi deserve and have the right to a school that will open wide doors of opportunity for their children. Nothing should get in the way of that.”
Stanley joins RePublic after serving most recently as an Assistant Principal with Success Academy Charter Schools, whose schools in New York ranked in the top 1% and 2% respectively in Math and ELA of all schools in the state in 2017. From Success, Charles will bring to RePublic best practices he’s learned regarding how to serve historically underserved students at an exceptionally high level - starting with high expectations for the team he will lead.
“Charles speaks with such conviction around the fact that there is not something magical about what is happening to drive amazing outcomes for kids at Success - it was what was most inspiring about his interview,” says Liz Friedland, RePublic’s Chief Talent Officer. “He speaks about great coaching and development for teachers. He speaks about authentic and accountability partnership with families. He speaks about leaders who hold their teammates accountable to doing the incredibly hard but necessary work of reversing historic learning gaps - and who have the backs of and build relationships with the people they lead. So often, we blame resources, or funding - but Charles knows that funding is not the whole story. And when you’re operating schools in a tough per pupil landscape - that gives me even more hope about what is to come for our scholars in Jackson.”
Stanley cannot do it alone. When asked how he will build community buy-in to his school, Charles describes a vision for his school that includes heavy family engagement and involvement as a critical element of the school’s design. “It’s about the way in which you give parents a window into the school, how you bring them into the building, and give them face time with you as a leader. I want to know the name and story of every child in our building, I want to have conversations with families in which they feel free to express their satisfaction, questions, and concerns. I want to invite them in to spend time in our collective space - and meet them where they are as I learn about the Jackson community.”
Kevin Heffel, RePublic’s Chief Academic Officer, speaks about the opportunity that opening the network’s first elementary school affords our families: “Working with scholars from the beginning of their academic experience presents so many opportunities for them to foster a deep love of learning and school that will last a lifetime.”
And for RePublic in Jackson, this is indeed a huge opportunity to prove what is possible for students in the Jackson community. The organization believes that the opportunity to work with scholars from the start is a critical step to its ability to empower scholars to reach their full academic potential.
Charles has spent his career working with organizations driven to address educational inequity, first as a teacher in traditional district schools in Metro Nashville Public Schools before moving to work with high-performing charters in the Northeast to learn from others working to change the status quo for low-income scholars. “When I go to work every day, I see kids knocking down barriers and challenges that have stood in their way in the past. When I see them overcome these challenges, it reinvigorates me every single day, because I know that the work can be done.”
A native of Greenville, North Carolina, Charles joins the RePublic team from Success Academy Bronx 4 Elementary School, where he’s served as an Assistant Principal developing teachers and helping children learn to read and do math at exceptionally high levels. Prior to leading with Success, Charles saw dramatic student achievement gains as a teacher, first in Nashville, and then, upon completion of his Master’s degree at Trevecca Nazarene University, with the KIPP network in New Jersey. Charles has taught and led at the elementary school and middle school level, and completed his undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University, where he earned a double major in Elementary Education and Child Studies.
In his free time, Charles enjoys reading fiction novels, eating great food, and listening to great music. He also likes to see stage plays, play soccer for fun, and catch up on HGTV. Charles is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.