Tag Archives: math

Faculty Spotlight: Danielle Mills

By Courtney Bolton

Oak Hall School has gone through many changes amid the pandemic, including welcoming many new teachers to campus. Danielle Mills has joined us as a middle school math teacher. Mills was born in Gainesville, Fla. and stayed throughout her teen years while attending Buchholz High School and eventually graduating from the University of Florida. Like many, Mills did not initially know what she wanted to study in college. “Like most college students I switched my major as I discovered where my passions and talents guided me,” she said. After graduation and before Mills began teaching, she worked as a tutor, an Administrative Assistant at the University Police Department and was a manager at a local restaurant. 

Both of Mills parents also work at Oak Hall. Her mother is the director of the Lower School and her father is a fifth-grade teacher. Like most Eagles, Mills has been challenged with COVID-19, especially with it being her first-year teaching. It is a steep learning curve for new teachers especially in the difficult and stressful environment of the pandemic. While it is a big change, Mills says she has had a lot of fun getting to know her students, online and in person, along with colleagues. 

Having graduated college not long ago, Mills believes it’s important for the senior class to be challenged and take risks. “I would encourage the senior students to embrace change, try to take interesting and different classes when possible, and avoid procrastination,” she said. “I would like to remind the students to have grace, be patient, and support one another through these challenging times,” she continued. 

Outside of school, Mills enjoys being with her friends, reading, painting, and teaching self-defense. She teaches at the R.A.D. and radKIDS programs. On its website, R.A.D. defines the class as, “a self-defense program designed specifically for women. The R.A.D. approach to personal safety begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, and progresses to hands-on physical defense techniques.” Mills has been involved with this program for years and has been very involved in the community.

Faculty Spotlight: Jim Margerum

By Aiden Wacksman

A little more than 30 years ago, math and English teacher Jim Margerum arrived at Oak Hall School, and has been here ever since. 

Margerum was raised in Miami, Fla., and attended Miami Carol City High School. In his high school years, he played wide receiver on the football team and was a member of the wrestling and weightlifting teams; although football was his favorite sport to play. In college, he was a powerlifter at the University of Florida. “It was a club sport… and we would represent Florida at the collegiate state championships,” Margerum said. At the time, he was able to legally bench press 300 pounds, which was more than two times his bodyweight. 

After graduating high school, he continued his education at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York for two years, even though he had the choice of going to the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). “Rensselaer Polytechnic gave me more money than Cal Tech,” he noted of his college decision. 

At RPI, he completed his undergraduates in math and physics. He then went on to UF where he earned an undergraduate degree in English and graduate degrees in mathematics education. “I came back to Florida to save money and because UF had so many classes in addition to the math and science [classes] that I could take,” he said.

Even though he has been teaching for three decades, the idea of becoming a teacher wasn’t on Margerum’s mind after graduating college. “I didn’t entertain the idea of becoming a teacher until I was in my 30s,” Margerum noted. He wanted to focus on having a career rather than being a “student” of the subjects he was interested in. At the time, Oak Hall only had two math teachers, and one of them was leaving. “[Oak Hall] reached out to some professors and one of them recommended me,” he stated. After that, the rest is history. Margerum was hired and began teaching geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus in the fall of 1989. In the same year he arrived at Oak Hall, he started the inaugural weightlifting team, which competes in the spring sports season. “Practices are my favorite thing about coaching the weightlifting team; working out together is great fun,” Margerum said. 

Today he teaches classes such as Calculus BC and Conspiracies and Mysteries. He also teaches Fantasy Literature, which is convenient since one of his favorite books is Lord of the Rings. His favorite types of mathematics include topology, mathematical set theory, and category theory. Margerum’s favorite class to teach is honors discrete mathematics, because he gets to choose what topics he teaches. “[Discrete] gives people in the class a different look at math than other algebra and calculus courses,” he said. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, weightlifting, listening to music, and spending time with his wife. 

LS Math Olympiad Team Look to Continue Success

By Jenna Poppell

Math Olympiad, founded in 1977, is an organization that aims to foster a passion for and competency in mathematics and problem-solving through team-based competitions. Oak Hall’s Lower School Math Olympiad team has been competing for the past 12 years and usually place in the top 10 percent of all the teams in the world. Just last year, the team scored in the top 2 percent by the end of the school year. Lower School teacher Jackson Rogers runs the club. He sees the club as a way to help students grow as a team, and as individuals. “Through the program, students develop flexibility and creativity in overcoming challenges,” he said. 

Once per month from November through March, students complete five math problems, which are not only difficult, but involve logic. From there, the problems are graded. By the end of the school year, teams earn a score out of 25 points.

This team is made up of fourth and fifth grade students with a love for math. “In order to be officially rostered, students must participate in the club for the full year,” Rogers explained. The students practice once a week after school for an hour with the help of Lower School teachers Maura Schiefer and Rick Mills. The teachers prepare the students by introducing math concepts, patterns, and problem-solving strategies. The students then have the opportunity to work together and ask questions during practice contests. While this sounds stressful, they often play fun math games as well.

For the competition, students compete with paper and pencil in exam-like conditions at the Lower School. For the aforementioned five problems, students have 30 minutes to complete the test. The exams are then submitted to the Math Olympiads organization, who tally the scores and compare them to other teams from around the world.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Ugur Baslanti

By Jasmine Chen

Oak Hall’s Upper School welcomed another new face this year. Dr. Ugur Baslanti has joined the Upper School mathematics department and is teaching Algebra I, Geometry, and Geometry Honors. Having worked at public schools and charter schools, Baslanti finds teaching at Oak Hall quite different from his past experiences. “I like the school culture, students are respectful…administration is very supportive, and things are more flexible compared to the public schools where I worked at,” Baslanti said.

As a passionate teacher with various ideas, Baslanti had been searching to find a place where he could “be [him]self as a teacher…put in all [his] passions for teaching, help other people, and work on [his] projects”. He knows that coming to Oak Hall was the right decision because this is the working environment he has always wanted to be in.

Growing up in Turkey, Baslanti received a high level of academic achievement by his own country’s standards. He received a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry Education and a master’s degree in Secondary School Science and Mathematics Education at Bogazici University in Istanbul. He decided to come to the United States 17 years ago to pursue a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at the University of Florida due to his need for new challenges. In addition, although he thinks that many educational ideas worldwide were created in the states, he knew that the American educational system also needed improvement in certain aspects. “I wanted to see both the theory and practice in place, what are the things that work, what are the things that don’t work,” Baslanti explained.

While still in college in his homeland, Baslanti got a job offer as a part-time teaching and research assistant at a private educational institution. Over the years, Baslanti has taught mathematics, physics, chemistry, and methods courses in education. “When I got accepted for the Ph.D. program at the University of Florida, the School of Teaching and Learning offered me a full scholarship, so I didn’t have to pay any tuition, which was great, and they paid me a salary on top of it…I was working as a teaching assistant and research assistant,” Baslanti said. Apart from teaching academic subjects, after graduating from the University of Florida, he worked as a school administrator and college counselor. “Now as a teacher, I can combine all those skills,” Baslanti noted. 

In his spare time, Baslanti likes to write daily-life blogs, solve challenging math problems, and play soccer and basketball. In addition, he also does part-time work for Duke University as a STEM academic coordinator for its online program. “We are designing and teaching college level classes for high school and middle school students,” Baslanti explained.

Faculty Spotlight: Paul McInerney

By Grace Bernstein

A new year at Oak Hall has begun, and with it, new faculty has arrived. The Upper School math department gained two teachers, both from Turkey, Ugur Baslanti and Paul McInerney. Although McInerney was born in America, he taught in Turkey for seven of the past eight years, with teaching one year in China. Currently, McInerney teaches AP Statistics, Algebra II, Algebra II – Honors, and an ACT/SAT prep course.

Growing up in Bay Shore, NY, McInerney always wanted to be a teacher ever since he was 7 years old. As his education continued at New Trier Township High School in Chicago, so did the desire to teach the grade he was studying himself. In college, he knew that high school students were his favorite demographic to teach. 

He began his career as a substitute teacher in upstate New York, and while that only lasted six months, he gained experience in many different subjects. For the latter half of the year, McInerney was a math teacher at Morris Central School, a combination school about three and a half hours from New York City. After a short stint at a junior high school in Chicago, McInerney taught in Wisconsin for the next six years. From there, he taught in Miami for eight years, then decided to take a break and become a travel agent in Denver, before returning to teaching. “It was my little hiatus,” McInerney joked. His return to teaching kept him in Denver for four years before having an immense desire to teach abroad.

This interest all started with a vacation to Hawaii. He loved being in a new environment, surrounded by a different language and a different culture. “It felt like I was in a different country,” he said.  Since Hawaii was the farthest he had traveled outside of the continental United States, he “wondered what it would be like to teach in another country.” McInerney reached out to a teacher placement agency, Carney Sandoe & Associates, to see if any opportunities abroad were available.

He began his international teaching journey in Turkey and loved it, but his family wasn’t too fond of him staying abroad. Two years after his teaching adventure began, he taught in China for one year, before returning to Turkey for another six years. While contemplating his initial expedition to Turkey, he came to a realization about life. “I didn’t want to be old and say, ‘I regret that’, not teaching outside the US,” McInerney stated.

McInerny explained that he learned all he knows about teaching due to observing other teachers. “Any good teacher is a good teacher because they are a thief,” he joked. He noted that the best teachers learn from their own favorite instructor and apply those skills with their own students.

As he began looking to return to the states, Oak Hall was one of the suggested schools for McInerney, given to him by his placement agency. After much research, and an unconventional interview process, the math teacher realized Oak Hall was the right fit for him. “This school is amazing for me,” he said. “The students are very exceptional in personality and have great academic potential worthy of some exploration and drive.”