One might say that the new director of Excelsior Academy in Erda danced her way into her new job.
Stephanie Eccles was selected by Excelsior Academy’s board of directors to be the charter school’s director starting the 2014-2015 school year.
Eccles is the fourth director at Excelsior since the school opened in 2009. She replaced Keri Stoddard who served as Excelsior Academy’s director since July 2012.
“Stephanie’s resume fell right in line with our mission statement and charter,” said Shelly Taylor, Excelsior Academy Board of Trustees chairperson. “She had a lot of experience at a charter school, experience with direct instruction and knew the curriculum that we use. She brings a lot of talent to the position.”
Eccles started her higher education at the age of 14 when, as a student at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, she enrolled in concurrent classes at the University of Utah studying ballet and dance.
She graduated from the University of Utah in 1987 with a degree in fine arts. After graduation she danced with Utah Ballet and performed in musicals in several local theaters.
“A ballet career is very short, that’s why I started so young,” Eccles said.
Returning to school, Eccles earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from Utah State University in 1991 and started to work for the Ogden City School district as a school counselor.
While working as a school counselor, Eccles began intense personal research into why students, referred to her for behavioral issues, also had trouble with reading.
“I wanted to find the best way to teach these students how to read,” she said.
Her research led her to Direct Instruction, a research-based, carefully sequenced and scripted instruction model, and Reading Mastery, a reading program that uses the principles of DI.
DI and Reading Mastery appeared to her to be the best way to teach students to read.
Eccles spent a summer at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon studying DI under Siegfried Engelmann, the founder of DI.
Eccles came back to Utah and used DI and Reading Mastery to home school her own children, along with her two sisters at her home in Bountiful.
In 2006, Eccles used her training and experience with DI and reading mastery to help found Legacy Preparatory Academy, a charter school in North Salt lake City. She served as the initial academic director for the school, which opened in 2006 with 500 students in kindergarten through ninth grade.
Under Eccles’ leadership, Legacy Prep Academy added grades 10, 11 and 12, one year at a time. In 2009 she became the academic director of Legacy Prepatory Academy High School. It served students in sixth through twelfth grade.
After three years, Legacy Prep Academy’s board of directors closed the high school to concentrate their resources on the lower grades, Eccles said.
When the Legacy Prep High School closed, Eccles left to work as a counselor at Washington Elementary School in downtown Salt Lake City.
“It was a big change going from Legacy to Washington,” she said. “The students at Washington needed assistance in learning the basic virtues of life and help discovering a vision of what they could be.”
Eccles was working at Washington when she saw a posting for the director position at Excelsior Academy in Erda.
“I read the mission statement of Excelsior and got excited,” she said. “Here was a school that used DI, had a classical education curriculum and used curriculum that I was familiar with.”
Arriving at Excelsior, Eccles found the school lived up to her imagination.
“I understand the first few years at Excelsior were a little bumpy, as they are at most charter schools,” she said. “Things have settled down. There is a positive culture here at Excelsior. They educate the whole child, intellectual and emotional. This is going to be a good fit.”
“Her educational background and experience with charter schools make her well qualified,” Taylor said. “We are excited to have her here.”