Tag Archives: new teacher

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: Debra Brown

By Kate Krauser

With three master’s degrees under her belt, ranging from fine arts to teaching, Debra Brown has joined Oak Halls second grade team. In addition to teaching math and social studies, her favorite subject to teach is reading. “I love to read to the students,” she said. Her background in theater helps the stories be entertaining for the students. “I am able to use different voices with characters,” Brown explained. The new Lower School teacher models prosody, which teaches properties of speech. She believes by teaching this concept, it will help the students read with expression.

Brown grew up in Urbana, Ill., where she attended Urbana High School. She then earned her bachelor’s degree in photography at Southern Illinois University, and her master’s in theater at Illinois State University. Before returning to Illinois to teach theater at a private school, Brown was a professional actor and theater teacher in Houston, Texas for four years.

After meeting her husband and working through a long-distance relationship, they got engaged and moved to Mississippi, where she got her Master of Fine Arts in acting at the University of Southern Mississippi. They were brought to Gainesville when her husband got a job as a clinical assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Performance at the University of Florida.

Brown loves Gainesville because of the warm weather and how family friendly Gainesville is. “There’s a good amount of things to do which is wonderful. I like that it’s not far away from the beach,” Brown explained. Her only dislike is the lack of fall colors during the changing of seasons. Before Brown worked at Oak Hall, she worked at O2B Kids where she trained teachers. Because she always wanted to teach kids, she got a master’s in teaching at the University of Florida. Brown ended up at Oak Hall when she met Director of Enrollment Management Nancy Coleman, and the Assistant Director of the Middle School, Shelly Warm, at a job fair. Since they hit it off, Coleman and Warm told Brown that she should interview for the open position for a second grade teacher.

This year, Brown is most excited to see how the children progress. “Looking at a child’s writing in January and all [the work] back to September, and saying, ‘Wow! Look at the growth and how they can express themselves and the words they can spell now!’,” exclaimed Brown. When Brown is not teaching, she likes to listen to the Beatles and do crafts like painting and being creative with felt. She also likes to be with her husband, and son David, whose life aspirations include knighthood. 

Faculty Spotlight: Audrey West

By Kate Krauser

Audrey West is one of the newest faces at Oak Hall’s Lower School. She is a Gainesville native, and attended Gainesville High School. “I have thought about living elsewhere, but Gainesville is home for me, and I believe it always will be,” she said. “Growing up in Gainesville is unique since it is home to the University of Florida, Tom Petty, and Bo Diddley,” she continued. The literary-focused third grade teacher enjoys teaching reading the most. “I feel like literacy is very important and I enjoy watching students relate to different texts,” explained West. 

West decided to pursue teaching when she began working at her daughter’s preschool. From there, her love of teaching flourished. West attended Santa Fe College, where she majored in organizational management. “I never intended on being a teacher,” West said. When she decided to become a teacher, West utilized the Department of Education to earn her teaching qualifications. 

Before Oak Hall, she worked at Metcalfe Elementary in Gainesville. During her first year of teaching, she met Mandy Ferwerda, one of the two current Lower School music teachers. After West’s first year at Metcalfe, Ferwerda left Metcalfe and joined the Oak Hall family. After the 2018-19 school year ended, a spot became available to become part of the third grade team. Michelle Mills, Lower School Division Head, reached out to Oak Hall teachers and asked if they knew anyone who would be a good fit for the job. Ferwerda told Mills about West, and emphasized how West was an excellent teacher. After the application and interview process was complete, it was determined that West was the best fit for the job. 

When West isn’t teaching, she enjoys weather forecasting, which always been an interesting topic to her. “I have always loved weather and taking pictures of weather,” she said. West took an online class for backyard weather forecasting and uses local online data to make her own weather predictions. “I like to look at long-range models and try to make my own weather predictions,” West explained. 

As for this school year, she is excited for the Lower School’s new reading curriculum, “Fountas & Pinnel”, which the faculty worked hard to accomplish. “I am super happy to be at Oak Hall and I love being an Oak Hall Eagle,” she proudly exclaimed.

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.”