Cohort 2015 Spotlight: Dean Gancarz-Davies

School: FirstLine Schools

Hometown: My early years were in Severna Park, Maryland. Then my high school years were in Brooklyn, New York.

What made you want to become a teacher?

I was a psychology major in college (at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota) and as junior and senior, I had an internship as a Developmental Therapist with autistic preschoolers. I loved it and completely grooved on it and thought "I want to do this for the rest of my life." I talked with my program, and they said I had to go into the public schools to do that. So I had various teacher aides positions in public schools and then when I moved to New Orleans...I did a program called Pathways to Teaching at Tulane where I took classes and taught in New Orleans public schools. Now I've been teaching for over 20 years since.

What brought you to your current position as Athletic Director?

I taught 4th grade, 6th grade, gifted resource, and 2nd grade. And I figured out that I was so busy that I was never able to exercise. To feel good, I need to exercise. So I thought, how can I make exercise part of my job? I have to be a PE teacher! So I went back to UNO and got my Master's Degree in PE and Health in 2005. And since then, I've been teaching PE and then became an athletic director.

Can you explain your inspiration for your CPL and Impact Initiative?

When I was a fourth-grade teacher, I was at a brainstorming session around what can we do to improve test scores. Well, my fourth graders were having a hard time sitting still, and I thought if we had an intense physical activity portion at the start of the day, my test scores would improve. I was laughed out of the room. I read a book called "Spark" after that. The first part was how in Illinois, a heavy fitness program at the beginning of the school day really advanced test scores in a huge way. When I read this in the book, I thought "That's what I was saying!" Later, when I was pushed to doing the Impact Initiative (with Leading Educators), I thought this was something I really believed in - if we can get kids to be more physically active that their academics will improve. So that is what I am trying to do, with all my PE teachers and specifically with kids who are really struggling, getting some of that exercise-induced focus back into the classroom.

What is one lesson you learned last year that you would share with a first year LE Fellow?

Make your Leading Educators time a priority. There will be a lot of pulls on your time and it would be easy to put LE stuff on the back burner, but it's equally as important if not more important than all the other stuff you have to do. It's a development of our craft that can really make significant strides with our students more so than other things we may be required to do.