This September has been different from all the others that Frank Castelli remembers. "For the first time, I didn't come out to answer the bell," he said.

Castelli quietly slipped into retirement from his position as assistant superintendent of the Brandywine School District on Aug. 1. He had been on medical leave -- with neuropathy, a complication of diabetes -- since December, 2000.

A quintessential educator, he hasn't completely dropped the reins. He'll continue teaching at Wilmington College as an adjunct professor, having added a third graduate-level course, contemporary issues in education, this term to the two he has

been teaching, curriculum and instruction, and discipline in the classroom.

But he no longer will be involved in the day-to-day delivery of learning, as he has since 1968 when, by happenstance, he agreed to fill in as a biology teacher at Brandywine High School.

"I was a full-time graduate student [at the University of Delaware] working on my doctorate and doing some contract curriculum work for the old Alfred I. [du Pont Special School] District when they asked me if I'd take it," he recalled.

Until 1975, he divided his time, working half an academic year at Brandywine High and the other half for Delaware, with the rank of assistant professor, supervising the student teaching, statewide, of all the university's undergraduates intending to become science teachers. During that time he earned his Ph.D. in behavioral science.

Frank Castelli

After 17 years at Brandywine High, he reached a critical point in his career. He was asked to go into administration as supervisor of instruction in the then recently created Brandywine district. What most guided his decision to accept the post, he said, was realization that it would enable him to have an impact on far more than the 120 or so students he would meet in any given year in the classroom.

Still, he said, he took the move as a change of duties rather than a change of vocation. Frank Castelli remained, and still remains, foremost a teacher.

"Teaching is a high-energy job. What you did last year doesn't count this year. Every year you have to establish how good you are," he said.

"There's a big difference between teaching for 20 years, and teaching for one year 20 times. It's a lot more than just staying three weeks ahead of the kids."

Science and mathematics have been the areas in which Castelli built his reputation. He was state science teacher of the year in 1972 and 10 years later, with four other teachers, received the National Science Teachers Association's 'Science Excellence' award, precursor of today's prestigious Presidential Science Award.

While professional honors have their place, the real measure of teaching success, he said, is found in acknowledgement by former students years after they graduate. "The best teachers find ways to touch kids as individuals," he said.

That happens through coaching and extracurricular activities and also in such unexpected places as the supermarket. "It's important that they see you not only in school but out in the community," he explained. Moreover, he added, the roles in which a teacher should be seen are those which demonstrate "you're an educated citizen of the country and the community."

"Expose the kids to your best side. I believe I was a role model," he said.

As it happened, Brandywine High was a near-perfect environment for a successful teacher, he said. "We had a faculty that was close. Most of them came from somewhere else -- Pennsylvania or West Virginia or some other place -- because the pay was good. We came together as a real team," he recalled. "I could have stayed there for 30 years and felt fulfilled."

Castelli had moved to Wilmington from southwest Philadelphia in 1958, after his father bought a liquor store at Vandever Avenue and Locust Street. The family lived above the store for a few years before moving to North Graylyn Crest, where Castelli still makes his home. He is a graduate of Salesianum School and has his bachelor's degree from Delaware.

Times have changed, of course. Brandywine High and all other schools have necessarily changed with them. "When I started out, few students had jobs. Now about 70% of them work at least 20 hours. Are they part-time employees or part-time students?" he said.

He became an assistant superintendent of the district, along with the late Ben Ellis, when Joseph DeJohn was hired as superintendent in 1995. All three were both personal friends and candidates for the job and had agreed that, whoever was selected for the top spot, the trio would function "like a three-legged stool," Castelli recalled.

Scandal and .financial and management problems overtook that management and plunged the district into turmoil. Through it all, Castelli noted, there was no indication that the district's overall quality of instruction suffered. "I'm glad to be able to say that none of that ever got into the classroom. Those problems and the earlier ones involved with the [former] New Castle County district never got past the classroom door," he said.

In retirement, Castelli, 61, plans to devote himself to Wilmington College teaching, and chairing a newly formed Wilmington-area neuropathy support group.

Somewhat ironically, considering his involvement as a district administrator with public-group oversight of school finances, he also is president of the Taxpayers Association of Surf City in the Long Beach Island, N.J., community where he and his parents before him have had a vacation house for many years. The organization's current priority is addressing alleged disparity in the tuition tax paid to enable children to attend school on the mainland.

Posted on September 11, 2001

2001. All rights reserved.

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