New Marshall Middle School dean is product of Janesville School District

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, February 13, 2017

JANESVILLE—Dan Jackson is very low key, and he has a calming effect on those around him.

He has a sort of soft-spoken assertiveness that invites conversation and even conflict, but without the attendant drama.

That's a good thing, because as the newly named dean of students at Marshall Middle School, he deals with tweens and teens. Most of the students he works with have what educators euphemistically call “behaviors.”

Jackson also is the wrestling coach at Parker High School.

He likes his jobs.

“I think deep down inside, I always wanted to be an educator,” Jackson said. “My father comes from a family of eight, and four of them became educators at some point in their lives.”

Jackson is a product of the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship program, and he is the first scholarship winner to become an administrator.

True, Jackson probably would have been an educational leader without the scholarship.But because of it, his talents remain in Janesville.

That's just what the school district wants to do: grow its own talent.

The scholarship program was the brainchild of former state senator and school board member Tim Cullen.The idea was that by hiring teachers that reflect the diversity of the student population,all students would benefit from having such positive role models.

At the time, the district had almost no minority teachers, said district Superintendent Karen Schulte. The district had tried recruiting but saw mixed results.

Cullen suggested the community produce its own minority teachers. He raised money to provide college scholarships for students who, if hired, agreed to spend at least three years teaching in their hometown.

In 2008, when Jackson was first hired to teach at Edison Middle School, teachers of color accounted for about 1.7 percent of the district's instructional staff. Students of color, however, accounted for 23 percent of the student population.

Now, about 3 percent of the district's teachers are minorities.

“It's not a huge increase, but it has gone up,” Schulte said.

The number of students of color also has increased to 26 percent.

Homegrown talent

Jackson graduated from Parker High School in 2003. He attended the University of Minnesota, where he majored in African-American Studies and minored in public health and family social science.

Jackson also was a wrestler, and part of a team that won two Big Ten championships and a national title. One of his greatest achievements was being named a Big Ten Academic All-American.

After college, Jackson decided to pursue a master's degree in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison. At the same time, he was back in Janesville helping Parker wrestling coach Ron Cramer and working at Jackson Elementary School as a special education aide for students with emotional behavior disorders.

“Ron kept on encouraging me to take advantage of the (scholarship) program,” Jackson said.

Cramer persisted, and Jackson eventually agreed. He changed his graduate work to focus on education administration, and he applied to Concordia College in Mequon to earn his teaching certification.

In 2012, Jackson went from helping kids with emotional behavior disorders to teaching at-risk students at Edison Middle School.

Then and now

When asked how much things have changed since he went to school in Janesville, Jackson rolls his shoulders and shakes his head in a way that seems to translate to, “Where do you want me to start?”

Out loud, however, he said, “Quite a bit.”

“I remember being the only person of color in a class,” Jackson said. “I knew it back then, but I didn't pay much attention to it. My parents didn't focus on it. The main thing they focused on was, 'You have to do your part.'”

Jackson said students did “lash out” at him a couple of times, but he chalked that up to ignorance.

“I think it's a lot about exposure,” he said. “I think a lot of barriers are being broken down.”

Jackson remembers when he first went to the Twin Cities for college.

“My mind was just opened up,” he said. “I saw professionals of all different races, and many more professional women.”

It was a source of encouragement for him, and school district leaders believe Jackson will provide the same sort of encouragement to students in Janesville.

Going forward

The Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship program has yielded five graduates, including four who currently are employed in the school district. Five more college students are in the pipeline, according to district data.

Schulte believes recruiting and “growing” more multicultural teachers continues to matter. Several years ago, she met with Sisters Empowering Sisters, a group for students of color in high schools.

“I was asking them about their school experience, and they said, 'We want to see some teachers and administrators that look like us,'” Schulte said.

It struck her forcibly, and she and her staff continue to look for ways to increase diversity.

Schulte described Jackson as a “quiet leader.”

“He has such a strong presence, wherever he is,” she said.


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