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A few minutes with Mrs. Charleson-Smith

Photo: Yilia Zhou

Where did you go to school?

After graduating from Amherst High School, I studied speech pathology at UB. While at UB, I worked at a group home and as a teacher’s assistant. Every step gave me more background and insight, and when the time came, I decided that I wanted to have my own classroom. So, I got my first master’s degree in Special Education at D’Youville College. Later on, I got my second master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy at UB.

How did you get into educational administration? 

I used to be an alternative and special education teacher at Falk School, then Kensington High School in the City of Buffalo, until it closed down. I worked with kids who behaved and learned a little bit differently, to give them that extra attention that they needed. I wanted to do more for these kids and have a bigger impact, but I didn’t think that the program had enough administrative backing. So, I initially trained to be a Director of Special Education, but I ended up being the Assistant Principal at Frontier High School for 16 years. That being said, when I was younger, I wouldn’t have known that I was going to work in education.

How did you end up at East? 

Although I loved my job at Frontier, I felt that I had met all the challenges there with the academics, behaviour, families, and community, and I didn’t feel challenged anymore. So, I wanted to go to a different community that would give me new challenges.

What do you think of East so far? 

Having gone to Amherst High School, I had always heard different things about East’s lack of walls as a kid, and as an adult, I wondered how people worked at East. After I got hired, I found out that the reality is that these are the best and brightest teachers around. They’re on point, they always have to be ready to work, and give opportunities for their kids every minute. I was also in amazement that the kids can concentrate on tests while there’s noise in the next room. To be honest, though, nobody really understands East until they experience it, and before I knew it, I was immersed in the culture here. I won’t lie, I was a little bit nervous before I came here. But, the lack of walls was an eye-opening experience, because I saw how it led to this school spirit of collaboration and connection. There’s definitely a lot of school spirit here, and people are respectful, kind, and open with each other. 

What’s your favorite part about your job? 

I love making connections with kids on all different levels, whether I see the highest performing kids reach their goals, or I see the lowest performing kids learn how to make good choices. It’s really fulfilling to see them go from goofy freshmen to stellar seniors, and graduation is one of my favorite events of the year.

What’s your favorite memory from your job? 

It’s actually a recent one, from last Thanksgiving, my last year at Frontier. I was always in charge of their Thanksgiving holiday drive, and in 2018, we raised enough money from faculty, staff, and students to feed full Thanksgiving dinners to 100 families whose kids attended our school. I’m talking turkey, rolls, gravy, and vegetables. The best part of it was that the kids didn’t know that we had anything to do with their Thanksgiving dinners, and when I saw them in school the week after, they would talk about how awesome their Thanksgiving dinners were. It was nice to have that kind of relationship with families, like “let me help you out when you’re in need”, and to see that look of joy on the parents’ faces, especially when the kids had no idea. 

Having been on both sides of education, what’s your favorite memory as a high school student? 

My favorite memory from high school was being vice president of student council and planning all the activities. Even the stress was more of a feeling of excitement. I really loved everything about high school.

I can definitely see the common thread of wanting to help others in your life. So, what advice do you wish every high school student would live by? 

I’d say that it’s okay to be yourself, that it’s okay to be kind, that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn and grow from these mistakes, and that one mistake doesn’t define who you are. And most of all, believe in yourself.

What’s your favorite food? 

Mashed potatoes.

What’s your favorite movie and TV show? 

My favorite movie is Coming to America, and my favorite show is Survivor.

What are your hobbies? 

Well, I do a lot of driving my kids from event to event, even though I’m not really sure if that counts as a hobby. I watch a lot of Notre Dame football and sports in general.

Speaking of sports, how do you think the Bills will finish the season? 

Being really optimistic, I’d like to say that they’ll finish 12-4 and make the playoffs.

Coffee or tea? 

I like tea, but it’s been my routine for many years to drink Diet Pepsi in the morning, because it’s quick and convenient.

Anything else you want the students of East to know about you? 

I really love the interactions with students, and I want to get to know them personally. So, stop by! Say hi! Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with me if you see me in the Commons.

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