Following the departure of the Director of Curriculum and Instruction in the fall of 2019, Options Schools was left with an opening in a major role. The search for a new Director of Curriculum and Instruction began immediately and the result was the addition of Dr. Anita Silverman in December 2019.
A native of central Indiana and graduate of North Central High School, Silverman made an immediate impact with her demeanor and approach to the position. The source? A winding journey that provided a wealth of experience and knowledge along the way.
A first-generation college student, Silverman started her secondary education at Ball State University, with the goal of becoming a teacher.
Required to take a speech & hearing test in order to proceed in BSU’s teaching program, a speech impediment prevented Silverman from passing the test and with the Disabilities Act of 1990 not yet in place, Silverman was forced with a choice: forfeit her dreams of working in education or leave the state of Indiana.
“All I had ever wanted to be was a teacher, I wanted to be just like my elementary school Principal,” said Silverman. “I just picked Ohio State because it was out of state and it was random. I didn’t understand the concept or cost of out of state student fees, I just wanted to go somewhere because I couldn’t teach in Indiana. It ended up being the best decision I ever made.”
After her time at Ohio State, Silverman learned of an opportunity that would assist in paying her student loans if she spent time teaching in an urban environment. She selected Chicago, packed up a U-haul & off she went. Silverman’s next stop was Thornwood High School, her first experience in alternative education and working with at-risk youth.
“I was on the south side of Chicago and early on I experienced my first student death, via gang violence,” Silverman said. “After experiencing the funeral, I learned a lot about things I previously knew nothing about and it taught me that I needed to learn about the students. Not many teachers take the time to learn about their students, and we have to take time to do that. That was a big lesson for me at age 23 and ever since, I’ve been really involved in making sure teachers understand what our kids live, not just what they learn.”
After a five-year span in Chicago, teaching courses that included Family and Consumer Science & Graduation Reality and Dual Role Skills (GRADS), Silverman was ready to return to Indiana. As her family grew with the addition of two children, Silverman wanted them to be closer to their grandparents.
With courses including Home Economics & Family and Consumer Science having been cut in certain areas, Silverman felt the need to build on her resume and went back to school to earn her Master’s Degree in School Leadership. Silverman’s career then led her to Indianapolis Public Schools, where she served in a myriad of roles, including Dean of Students and Principal at one of IPS’ first alternative schools in 1999, where she realized alternative education was where she fit. Much of Silverman’s time was spent working at schools where “something needed to be done, whether it was an increase in test scores or motivation, that was kind of my niche.”
That very “niche” has helped Silverman thrive in previous roles, but also makes her a major asset for Options Schools and the students it serves. She also brings a student-first perspective that meshes well with the mission of Options.
“We have to respect students for being who they are…I can’t ask them to become part of my world and I can’t be a part of their world, we have to be in our world together, and I think that is really important because we have to create our community,” Silverman said. “I think we often make the mistake in forgetting that the younger generation knows how to think, so we have to respect their processes & their mindset. It is our job as educators to introduce us to the world, not to try to change their upbringing.”
The experience Silverman carries with her also comes from her dissertation, as she earned her EdD from Ball State University in Educational Leadership. Silverman completed her dissertation on the Cultural Competency of Teachers, and despite potential drawbacks to her dissertation topic, Silverman carried on.
“I was told that there wasn’t much research out there (on the Cultural Competency of Teachers) or that it wasn’t valid, or people don’t care, but now it’s so important to discuss race, and respect, understanding, and that was about 14 years ago,” Silverman said. “I was always told it was going to be a difficult topic and people may not be interested in that topic, but it has been and continues to be an important issue.”
With Silverman’s passion rooted in alternative education, she has used a creative mindset to present Options students with new experiences.
“I’ve always been really crafty and learning needs to be engaging for our students & shouldn’t be something that bores them,” Silverman said. “Not all students can learn sitting at desks in rows. I like to stay current with technology, and I like to still be involved with kids to see what I can do to connect with them and how I can help teachers to connect with them. I use drums because I know it can help with emotional regulation and kids are so dysregulated with everything going on in the world right now.”
Certified by Remo Drums in Healthy Rhythm Drumming Coordination, Silverman discovered the new-found passion in August 2019 and has since used it as a beneficial tool in the classroom, while improving her own drumming skills in her free time.
Along with the importance of education, Silverman also puts a lot of value in honesty and integrity.
“I think the best thing we can teach kids is integrity and model that for kids,” Silverman said. “Integrity has always been a big thing for me. It is the one thing you can’t ever get back, once you give someone your integrity, you can’t get that back. Even if you apologize after lying to someone, for example, you can’t just fix it and it’s the same with your integrity. I need to know that when I go to sleep at night, I was always myself.”
Silverman has loved the ability Options has provided her, to work with multiple schools and have full team involvement, working towards a common goal. Silverman shared that she is looking forward to strengthening and improving the sustainability of dual-credit program partnerships with Ivy Tech, J. Everett Light Career Center and others.
With the students always in mind, Silverman provided an “old phrase” that she believes speaks volumes in a school setting and serves as a reminder for all educators.
“They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”
About Options Schools
Serving students in grades 6-12, Options Schools are free, public charter schools with brick and mortar campuses in Carmel and Noblesville & a new campus opening in Westfield in August 2021. Options also offers additional programs that serve students throughout the state of Indiana (serving over 90 school corporations). With a high-quality, individualized approach, Options was founded in 2002 and specializes in providing students with an inclusive environment and a student-to-teacher ratio of 15-to-1.