Gregory Thomas Asciutto
Company: CMS Schools
Position: Garinger High School, English Teacher
WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN CHARLOTTE AREA?
From the age of 5 onward, I grew up down the road in Stanly County. I moved away for college but have been back living full-time in Charlotte proper since 2014.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOU?
In short, I’m North Carolina kid who wants to see his state and its people thrive.
Long-form: At 17, I left home and started school at the University of Southern California – the goal was to become a music journalist and work for Rolling Stone. That changed quickly; I couldn’t ignore the abject poverty that surrounded me in South Los Angeles, so I wrote about what I saw. By the end of my undergraduate term, I was a self-proclaimed expert in urban poverty; my subjects ranged from L.A.’s homelessness crisis to child trafficking in Auckland.
Writing about those issues wasn’t doing enough for me, however, so I started looking for alternative career paths. I wanted to continue working for those in marginalized conditions, and I wanted to do that work back in the region that raised me. Teach for America promised me a ticket back home, so for the last five years I’ve been teaching English at Garinger High School.
I’m writing this as I’m ending a two-month vacation, so I’ll try not to sound too bitter – I really do love my job. I chair our English team, which led our school to a North Carolina Department of Public Instruction ranking of 1/170 (district) and 4/2,600 (state) for academic growth. I’m proud of those numbers, as well as the curriculum I wrote to help us get us there – a vocabulary curriculum that is now recommended use for all CMS high school English classes. I served CMS as a 2018 District Teacher-of-the-Year, one of nine who represented the district’s 9,000 educators. To my understanding, I am the youngest individual to have held that title.
I love my community, and I firmly believe that we can’t succeed as a unit unless all of us have the opportunity to succeed as individuals. That’s really what I’m about – it’s a philosophy that guides what I do outside of the classroom as well. For the past four years I’ve spent my Thursday nights at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, helping guys apply for jobs and build resumes. I don’t really see it as “volunteering” so much as taking care of my neighbor – if a guy had a skill that could help me out, I know they’d reciprocate.
This response is dragging on, so I’ll add one last thing: for the past year, I’ve led the formation of a think tank connecting rural and urban teachers in North Carolina. The group, EdAmbassadors, is a subsidiary of the nonprofit EdNC. We serve as teacher voices in policy-making discussions with philanthropists, politicians, and nonprofit leaders dedicated to reaching educational attainment goals statewide. Tonight, I’m running up to Raleigh for an equity conference, and I’m pretty hyped about that – it’s been exciting to be at the forefront of state-level decision making.
DURING YOUR TIME VOLUNTEERING FOR A COMMUNITY ACTIVITY OR PROJECT, WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT?
It’s always cool to see a guy at the shelter get a job or find employment. Two years ago, my mentor called me worrying about her 80-year-old father, who the family hadn’t heard from in a few months. She asked for my help finding him, so I drove to the shelter and there he was. That night he went home with his family and has been in an apartment of his own since.
I don’t consider it work or volunteering, but I help recruit and enroll students in Johnson C. Smith University’s Upward Bound program. The JCSU program is similar to the other Upward Bounds, in the sense that the underlying mission is to put first-generation, low-income students into intensive year-round college preparatory programs with the ultimate goal of getting them into college. In the past two years I’ve worked to get 15 Garinger kids enrolled in the program. At last summer’s end-of-year banquet, my kids beat out others from around the district to take home nearly every academic award. The pride I felt during that ceremony will always stick with me. It’s one thing when you, as an individual, are recognized for your achievements – but when your people, your kids do it? That’s a whole different feeling.
IN YOUR OPINION, HOW DO YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMUNITY? PLEASE BE AS DETAILED AS YOU CAN.
This is an extension of my previous response; I’m going to pull from a speech I gave last year to CMS high school teachers:
“I thought that if I taught well enough, impacted enough students … the barriers they faced outside the classroom would immediately start falling down. My teaching, my instruction, was going to do that.
But as I’ve grown to understand this job, our profession, I realize I was looking at it all wrong, putting myself at the center of a very complex picture. My primary role as an educator isn’t to be an agent of change; it’s someone who can give students the knowledge and skills they need to become change-makers themselves.
Now when I drive around East Charlotte and see blight, crime, homelessness – I don’t get discouraged, but instead use those moments to ask myself, how can I equip them to tackle this? How can I give my students what they need to identify and solve these issues, as well as the ones we’ll face in 10, 15, 20 years?”
Any time I get to lift someone else up to succeed, I consider it a success – when those successes benefit the greater community, it’s even more fulfilling. To give an example, I visited two of my girls in their first semester at UNC-Greensboro last fall. Throughout their high school years, we spent a lot of time developing leadership skills and advocating for social justice issues in East Charlotte. Anyways, they go to college as undeclared majors. I show up in November and one’s set on becoming a social worker while the other is working on an eviction diversion program in Edgecombe County. To know that my guidance helped nascent interests in poverty alleviation become desired career paths – that’s what it’s all about. Encouraging, pushing others to be their best selves is my greatest contribution to our community.
PLEASE LET US KNOW ANY AWARDS OR RECOGNITIONS YOU’VE RECEIVED IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER:
• 2013 Hearst Journalism Award for multimedia coverage of homelessness in South Los Angeles
• 2018 CMS Teacher-of-the-Year finalist (one of nine: I represented 1,000 teachers in the Beacon Learning Community)
• 2018 JCSU Upward Bound Distinguished Service Award
• 2019 United Way of Central Carolinas’ Civil Servant of the Year
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES OR INTERESTS?
I like to pretend I’m following a structured workout routine at the gym, so I go to the Johnston YMCA three or four times a week. Whenever I get the chance, I travel – I’ve been doing mini trips all around the South in the past year. On the occasional weekend I’ll head home to the Uwharries and go camping and fishing. I’m a big football fan as well, getting ready for a combined 5 wins from my USC Trojans and Oakland Raiders this season.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE THAT YOU STAND BY?
“Hasta La Victoria Siempre” – as it translates: until victory, always. Che Guevara signed off with the phrase in his final letter to Fidel Castro and the Cuban people before leaving to organize revolutionaries in Bolivia, where he died. Guevara’s desire to work for the economic and social liberation of marginalized Latin Americans influenced me heavily when I was younger, and the underlying message still guides my work to this day. As an undergraduate, I was in the first coterie of American journalism students to travel to Havana under the Obama-Clinton State Department; my reporting focused on market liberalization and the consequent growth of underground economies, namely prostitution. The experience shook my values and worldview. I decided then that I would dedicate my life to working for those who live in poverty, and Guevara’s quote serves as a daily reminder of that purpose.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS? 10 YEARS?
The details change often, but the underlying goal is to be in local elected office within the next five years. I need to build my procedural knowledge and leadership toolkit before jumping into a race, so the tentative plan is to start my Masters in Public Administration online via UNC Chapel-Hill next spring. I was just accepted into the City of Charlotte’s Civic Leadership Academy for the fall, so I’m excited about getting a crash course in public administration before I jump on a $50,000 grenade.
Career-wise, I plan on running for CMS School Board in the very near future. Depending on that experience, and if I feel that I best serve the community as an elected official, I would love to be a member of the North Carolina General Assembly before I’m 40. I can’t imagine a scenario that would make me want to leave North Carolina permanently, unless it were for policy work that could directly benefit our communities here.
CAN YOUR SHARE ONE THING THAT IS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
It’s not a conventional bucket list item, but I want to buy my childhood home in Albemarle. I grew up on the edge of the woods on top of a hill, a real bucolic setting I wanted nothing to do with as a kid. My parents sold it within months after I left for school; I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or my desire to reconnect with that 16-year-old version of myself, but I want to retire on that property.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU USED YOUR PASSPORT?
Summer of 2017 – I spent a few weeks working my way from Marrakesh to Barcelona with my college roommates. We hit seven cities and traveled via every form of transportation imaginable except camel, which we chose to eat instead of riding. Had a blast; the three of us are spread out all over the country now, so every few years we pick a spot somewhere on the globe to meet up. We’re deciding between Colombia and Italy for 2020, so I’ve got a five-week streak going on DuoLingo Italian.
WHAT IS A FUN FACT ABOUT YOURSELF THAT NO ONE KNOWS?
I used to be an altar boy and thought I was going to be a priest until age 10. That changed when I discovered football and my dad’s Oakland Raiders. Retrospectively the priest route would have been a better use of my Sundays.
WHO IS YOUR HERO?
My hero has to be my dad, Peter Asciutto. We never really had a relationship until I was in college – that’s on me – but today, I aspire to be that man. Peter’s a businessman and former county commissioner back home in Albemarle. He is a large figure in local politics, and that reputation has come at great personal and professional cost. His successes and failures, his willingness to stand up for what he believes to be ethical and moral – it makes me strive to be a better man, one with stronger convictions and greater courage.
WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
Just finished Ask the Dust by John Fante; currently on Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg. Prepping Gatsby for my rising juniors.
WHAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE YOU SAW?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on the big screen, Knock Down the House on Netflix.
WHAT WAS THE LAST CONCERT YOU SAW?
Mandolin Orange at the Knight Theatre in June. Great band; it was a benefit concert for the Men’s Shelter and Urban Ministry.