Susan Marino named new director of UMSL Charter Schools

Susan Marino

Susan Marino has been the executive director of Lafayette Preparatory Academy since 2012. During that time, she helped build the school from 75 students in kindergarten through second grade in 2013 to about 400 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students today. Last summer, the Missouri Charter Public School Association recognized that work, naming Marino and her colleague Sarah Ranney as winners of the Award for Excellence in Education for School Leader of the Year. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Susan Marino began her tenure as executive director of Lafayette Preparatory Academy in 2012 after leading a grassroots effort to open the public charter school.

About the same time, Bill Mendelsohn became director of Charter Schools and Partnerships at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Over the past eight years, the two have worked closely together in their respective positions.

So it’s fitting that Mendelsohn will pass the torch to Marino this July when she officially takes over leading the UMSL Charter School Office, housed in the College of Education. Mendelsohn can’t think of anyone more prepared to succeed in the position.

“I’m thrilled because Susan is a great leader and has been so involved in the charter school landscape for about the same amount of time as I have,” he said. “Her knowledge and experiences, both as a school founder and executive director, and being on the receiving end of UMSL sponsorship uniquely positions her to step into this role and hit the ground running.”

Marino hadn’t been job hunting, but the position intrigued her. She thought it could be a good opportunity to leverage her experience and help even more educators and students. She consulted with Mendelsohn, and he encouraged her to apply.

“I’m really excited for the new work,” she said. “I am a person who loves to build things and enjoys new experiences, learning new things and expanding my reach in my expertise, so I’m excited for it in that regard. Of course, I’ll miss my LPA community so much. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy here, and I feel very close to them. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done together and what we’ve built together. But I do think that my strengths lie in innovation and in building and in growth.”

During her time at LPA, Marino helped build the school from 75 students in kindergarten through second grade in 2013 to about 400 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students today.

Last summer, the Missouri Charter Public School Association recognized that work, naming Marino and her colleague Sarah Ranney as winners of the Award for Excellence in Education for School Leader of the Year. The pair credited the accolade to the school’s twofold ethos: creating an engaged, diverse community and a culture of academic excellence.

In her new role, Marino will head an office that sponsors seven public charter schools throughout the city, including elementary schools, K-8 schools and one middle school. The public charter schools are independent and operate under a contract with UMSL, which provides support and oversight to each of the seven schools, including LPA.

The appointment comes at a time when many St. Louis community members and leaders are debating what the future of public charter schools in the city will look like.

Marino envisions a more collaborative education ecosystem where UMSL charter schools provide support and share resources with St. Louis Public Schools and private schools.

She noted that the intent of the charter school model is to breed innovation. However, she said work at individual schools can become siloed. She sees opportunities to work more cohesively.

“For me, the vision is, how do you leverage all the innovation and all the great things happening in the charter schools?” she said. “How do you take those things to make improvements across the systems of the city, the region and the state and have a greater impact on student learning?”

Mendelsohn sees a similar future.

“I think charter schools are here to stay,” he said. “At the same time, we’re moving toward greater collaboration between St. Louis Public Schools and charter schools. I look forward to the day when there’s a shared vision because I think the children of St. Louis will benefit from that.”

In terms of innovation, LPA was able to build a strong school culture through social-emotional learning. It provided a solid foundation for academic gains since the school’s founding. Premier Charter School has also built a strong school culture with character education and a topnotch teacher onboarding program for new staff. The latter has resulted in impressive staff retention and staff development.

Marino also highlighted The Biome’s STEM education program, Northside Community School’s continued academic gains and St. Louis Language Immersion Schools’ language programs as successes worth investigating and potentially expanding to other schools.

As for UMSL’s role in driving a more collaborative future, Marino expects to tap into academic expertise and institutions on campus – something with which she had firsthand experience. Marino recently earned her EdD from UMSL, and at LPA, Mendelsohn helped connect the school with Amber Candela, an associate professor of math education.

Candela improved LPA’s math performance by introducing the concept of high cognitive demand tasks, which require students to think abstractly to make connections to mathematical concepts, analyze information and draw conclusions.

UMSL’s innovative work on math education is just one tool available, though. Marino expects to connect schools to other resources on campus, particularly in the College of Education. One such asset is the Center for Character and Citizenship.

The center is led by Marvin Berkowitz and Mindy Bier, two of the world’s foremost experts on character education, a model that prioritizes the development of core ethical values, virtues and critical thinking in students and educators. The center has regularly exported research, programming and tutelage to regional, national and international education leaders. Marino thinks that expertise could be utilized to great effect locally.

“One of the things UMSL is passionate about is having this bigger impact,” Marino said. “It’s not just about our charter schools or just about the university but how we leverage our knowledge and our expertise to have this greater impact on St. Louis city and the region. I think the UMSL Charter School Office is really well positioned to do that because we can tie together some of those resources and make sure the resources are getting out to where they need to be.”

The future for public charter schools in St. Louis is bright, and Marino is looking forward to her role in it.

“UMSL has a really strong eye toward having a greater regional impact and thinking about how all the pieces fit together, and charter schools are one part of that puzzle,” she said. “I’m really appreciative to be that part of the puzzle and look forward to seeing how we can put that together to have a greater impact in the region.”


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