My name is Dan Wekselgreene. I’ve been teaching math at CHS for 12 years (22 years teaching in total), I’m the Tier 1 coordinator at CHS, and I’m a member of the ILT.
I got my BS from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA in 1999, in the field of Information Systems. I eventually figured out that, while I enjoy working with computers, it unfortunately wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in life. At the same time, I spent my summers working at a program called Summerbridge, teaching middle school students (two summers in Pittsburgh and then two summers in Hong Kong), and realized that teaching was my passion. It was also what helped me begin to understand the systemic inequities that exist in education. Summerbridge programs served students from lower socio-economic levels, while being hosted by extremely wealthy private schools. The discrepancies between resources students had access to during regular school and during the Summerbridge programs were plain to see. I came away from these experiences with a sense for how profoundly unfair our education systems are.
After college, I came to San Jose to work as an Americorps volunteer, with a focus on developing a service learning program for middle schoolers. Over the period of a couple of months, I visited dozens of middle schools across San Jose, with the goal of recruiting students to the program. Again, the contrast between the schools in different parts of the city were striking, even though they were all district public schools. Some schools had lush, beautiful campuses with space to move and play, while others were small, run-down, and fenced in. And these physical differences, of course, were just the tip of the iceberg. I came away from this experience more sure than ever that I wanted to go into education and work toward improving systems for all students.
After two years in Americorps, I applied for an emergency teaching credential (possible, as there was a teacher shortage at the time) and began teaching math full time in downtown San Jose. I taught with the emergency credential for several years, and loved working with the students, so I enrolled in the credential program at SJSU in the evenings. I remained in the same school for 10 years, and then, for a variety of reasons, needed a change. I joined the team at Capuchino in 2011, and have been there ever since. I’ve been the co-chair of the math department for several years, as well as the district math coordinator for the last four years. Over the years, I read many books and journals on instruction, assessment, and curriculum, and realized how much I still needed to get better at. My first decade was spent teaching under NCLB, in an environment where the STAR test scores were all that mattered, and this mindset definitely stunted my growth as a teacher and did harm to my students. In 2018, I decided that I wanted to really push my learning further, so I enrolled in the masters in math education program at SFSU. I completed my coursework in Spring 2020, but all the issues around COVID and virtual teaching prevented me from completing my research project, which I am finally now in the process of doing.
Over the years, in my department at Cap, I realized how our students’ experiences were really different from teacher to teacher, year to year. Differences in personality and style are great, but students were experiencing very different expectations around core practices such as grading, groupwork, depth of knowledge, and math practices. Some students were able to navigate these differences, but too many were not. Our department finally spent the time to investigate our core values, to develop a set of shared beliefs, and to align our systems. It’s not perfect, but we have made great strides toward a more equitable system. Given that there were such discrepancies within a single department, I assumed that the problem would be even larger when looking across disciplines. This is why I applied to be Tier 1 coordinator at Cap. I wanted to investigate our systems and help align core practices, so that all students (especially those who are struggling) could have a more coherent, equitable experience, and thus have greater levels of success.
I joined the Instructional Lead Team, because I see that as the next logical extension of this kind of systems thinking. The goal is not to make all classrooms look the same, but to investigate and find out what is really working for students, and to use those practices to establish a common instructional framework that all teachers can draw from. If this is done well, I think it can improve the experience for all students. It can also improve the experience for teachers, because it will give us a common language of practices that we can collaborate on, even when our curriculum is different.