Ask the staff at Deer Park High School to describe colleague Jeffrey Dunn in one word. Though many complimentary descriptions might be offered, the one most likely to top the list would be “empathy.” Indeed, the NEWESD 101 region’s 2014 Teacher of the Year seems to have an innate ability to reach and inspire all students, no matter their abilities, differences or challenges. It’s a gift that comes somewhat naturally.
Though Dunn is the holder of two master’s degrees and a doctorate, he freely admits his own educational journey was not always easy. Only later after earning his academic degrees did he realize that he shared, with a number of his students, the learning profile known as dyslexia. This accounted for not only his dif- ficulty with handwriting and foreign languages, but also his talent for visualization and narrative.
Through that personal odyssey came a fascination with brain research, student learning styles and personalized learning. Individual differences, he concluded, must be respected and celebrated. In his classroom, he was perhaps years ahead of the curve in leaving no child behind.
From early in his career, he wanted to know what made students successful and what made them struggle. “Lately, a flood of brain research on reading and mathematics has come forward,” Dunn says. “I am dyslexic and my oldest son is autistic, and I understand both of us so much better now. I want to know and assist each and every one of my students in ways I am still continuing to come to understand.”
His enthusiasm is on display in many venues: his work as an English teacher, as a secondary Learning Assistance Program coordinator and as site coordinator of the Cornerstone After and Summer School Program (funded through a 21st Century After School grant).
Creative writing is perhaps his strongest interest in drawing out the strength of students. After 30-plus years in five high schools – 11 years at Deer Park – he has conducted after-school creative writing workshops and published a literary magazine to celebrate student art, poetry, and short stories. For many, the experience transforms their lives, uncovering talent and inspiring newfound confidence.
DPHS Principal Joe Feist says Dunn’s effectiveness extends to all levels of students. Whether teaching struggling freshmen or the most advanced seniors, “He is truly a master teacher. I have worked closely with Jeff over the past six years, and I can say with confidence that he is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever observed.”
One colleague calls Dr. Dunn a “kid saver” who is “nothing short of gifted in relating to every kind of student.” Yet, in addition to connecting with students at every level, he is also at home analyzing data, researching best practices and, most importantly, creating solutions to uncover student talents.
In the end, students and colleagues agree Dunn has too many good qualities to be accurately described in just one word. Rather, four well-chosen words perhaps say it best: Teacher of the Year. Congratulations Dr. Dunn!
Story courtesy of ESD 101