A doctor. A politician. An international spy. These were all different paths that Danielle Scorrano had considered following (some more seriously than others) as a young woman. “As a kid, I had an insatiable natural curiosity for everything I encountered, and I’ve always been inspired to explore the world around me by strong women, including those in my family, Margaret Thatcher, and the lead character of the TV show Alias.”
Ms. Scorrano believes her sense of curiosity was due in part to her upbringing. She was born in Orlando, Florida, where her mother's side of the family resides, and she recalls many trips in her early years to the zoo and the Sea World theme park, where she learned about the natural wonders of the Earth. However, her family moved to Westchester when she was in the third grade, so Ms. Scorrano fully considers herself “a ride or die New Yorker.” In school, she was a keen soccer player who was never more joyful than when she was on the field. She also started coaching others herself at the young age of 10.
“But I also had this quality about me as a kid, which I can now align with Susan Cain’s concept of bittersweet,” said Ms. Scorrano. “While I appreciated the beauty and joy of life, I felt deeply about the loss, grief, and uncertainty that comes with being human. So I wanted to pursue a career that enabled me to do something about it.” This perspective led Ms. Scorrano to follow through on one of her earliest ambitions—politics. In college, she majored in political science and international business and worked for a senator, focusing on health care and social issues. Later, Ms. Scorrano focused on environmental lobbying.
Although she enjoyed the thrill of politics, she missed the community and learning brought by education. She reflected on her values of curiosity, community, and service, and looked again to the strong women she admired and examined why. “Many women in my family are teachers, and I found so much joy coaching soccer, so I thought that teaching would better align with my passions.”
Following her undergraduate studies at Loyola University Maryland, Ms. Scorrano worked with AmeriCorps in Baltimore, teaching high schoolers and coaching soccer. She next moved back to New York and taught social studies at a charter school, while starting courses for her master’s degree in education at Manhattanville College. But then Ms. Scorrano took a pause. In these pursuits, she wanted to learn in a school community that provided the tools for her to be a more deliberate teacher, and she found Windward.
“Windward was the perfect school for me that offered on-the-job training. I was able to learn all about the theories and concepts about what it meant to be an effective teacher and apply those immediately in the classroom. The layers of classes and comprehensive deep dive into the Windward student population were exceptional, but the real secret sauce was the relationships.”
Ms. Scorrano shared that her mentors Tanya Ehrlich, Colleen McGlynn, and Diane Schonberger, as well as members of her cohort like Jeremy Bletterman and Katherine Kaneko (“the dream team” as she called it), made her first years at Windward so memorable. Additionally, Ms. Scorrano recalls that being a part of the cohort of lead teachers to open up the Manhattan campus, under Leslie Zuckerwise’s leadership, were “the best times.” She said, “The first year we were on two floors at the 97th Street building on the Upper West Side. In those days, we knew what we had to do to make the year a success, despite its challenges. There was no hesitation to help each other because we were in it together.”
The Manhattan team moved into its permanent campus location on the Upper East Side the following year, and Ms. Scorrano continued teaching in the middle school. She was in the classroom for seven years, but, over time, her journey progressed more towards studying the research behind Windward’s methodology. She said, “As a teacher, I knew that what I was doing was working, but I wanted to understand why this instruction was so effective.” Ms. Scorrano was gratified by the opportunity to be the Windward’s first research associate, where she could dedicate time to directly translate her teaching experience to research, a position which was created by Dr. Jay Russell and Sandy Schwarz.
“I caught the research bug after connecting with Jon Rosenshine, an important mentor for me, after my first year as an assistant,” said Ms. Scorrano. “I had asked Jon for book recommendations about character education, and we met for lunch every week afterwards to discuss socioemotional learning and resilience.” They initially talked about what it meant to educate students from a character perspective, which led to unpacking the potential of how research can inform educators. Ms. Scorrano and Mr. Rosenshine developed their findings first into an internal professional development presentation before being asked to jointly present at the 2018 Fall Community Lecture.
During the 2020-21 school year, Ms. Scorrano transitioned to becoming a full-time staff member of The Windward Institute team as the Research & Development Director. In this role, she has taken the lead with planning the professional development opportunities offered by the WI, from organizing the scope and sequence of courses to creating new classes. This past year alone, The Windward Institute developed 15 new WI courses, which involved Ms. Scorrano coaching new instructors and creating class materials. She also has coordinated Windward’s tutoring project with the Promise Project Clinic and collaborated on the in-school neuroscience study with Haskins Laboratories. Ms. Scorrano is a lead content creator as well, writing articles for The Beacon, the monthly WI newsletters, and various learning tools.
Of course, Ms. Scorrano also successfully launched and is the host of the READ Podcast, which has amassed nearly 30,000 downloads from listeners in 85 countries across the globe. “The idea for READ came up because I was interested in connecting science and story to illuminate the research related to advocacy and education.”
Each episode entails an extensive process—building relationships with prospective guests, interview prep, pre-interview meetings with the guest, the podcast recording, writing show notes, producing the episode, and marketing it to the WI audience. Hearing anecdotes from listeners, such as how the READ Podcast is being used in graduate course work or is listened to by a parent group in Australia, “are what is most meaningful to me,” Ms. Scorrano said. “It’s so gratifying to hear these stories of how the podcast has helped people.”
The past couple of years have been a period of reinvention for Ms. Scorrano as she, along with The Windward Institute team, boldly stepped in to lead a rebranded division of The Windward School and navigate through a pandemic. “Working with Annie Stutzman, Najah Frazier, Erikka Ramkishun, Asante Robinson, and Harri Ramkishun has been exceptional. The support we have given each other and the way we have challenged each other to fulfill our mission has been second to none.”
The road ahead will be busy for Ms. Scorrano, as she looks to complete her doctorate studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education this year. As for The Windward Institute:
“Our team has surprised itself in the impact we have made, as we have already surpassed our initial benchmarks in our second year. But I’m hopeful that we can build upon our momentum and continue to be a bridge and facilitator between the research and the educational community. So long as there are children in need of reading support, we will remain steadfast in our work as advocates and disruptors of the educational status quo.”