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Pi equals passion


Sequim High School math teacher Brian Berg earned a chance to win game-show-sized money for doing what he loves - teaching.

He is one of 11 semi-finalists for the National Education Association Foundation's Awards for Teaching Excellence, with a $25,000 grand prize and four $10,000 prizes. David Updike, Sequim schools psychologist and Sequim Education Association president, nominated Berg, which led to the Washington Education Association selecting him as the state representative for the award.

Berg has been active in the association - the Sequim teachers' union - for more than 20 years, including serving as president. Currently he is chief negotiator and grievance chairman.

Updike said when teachers have questions about their contract, they always go to Berg.
"He's been a leader and (teachers) say he's great to work with," Updike said.

Updike added Berg excites students about algebra and geometry and works well with students with disabilities and different cultural backgrounds.

Winning already

For a chance at the winnings, Berg was interviewed by a panel of teachers and specialists on Friday, July 16, in Washington, D.C.

Even if he doesn't win, his expenses were paid for the trip and he will return in February with the other states' nominees for the 2011 NEA Foundation's Salute to Excellence in Education gala.

Along with prize money, if Berg places in the top five, he could win free digital arts training for Sequim High School. Berg finds out in late summer/early fall if he is a top-five candidate.

Before the interview, Berg wrote a five-page statement about himself and included recommendations from Mary Lindquist, president of WEA; Bill Bentley, Sequim schools superintendent; Shawn Langston, Sequim High School principal, and Whitney Macaulay, a former student.

Read more about the competition online at www.neafoundation.org.

Berg's background

Berg has taught in Sequim for 26 years with two stretches at Sequim High School and 10 years at Sequim Middle School. He didn't intend to become a teacher and wanted to pursue science after earning bachelor's degrees in botany and zoology from the University of Washington.

While working in construction, Berg decided he wanted something more professional. His older sister was a teacher and she inspired him to follow her path.

Berg later earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Washington and teaching certification from Western Washington University.

Sequim was his first teaching job, which worked out well because, as an avid outdoorsman, he wanted to be near the Olympic Mountains. He grew up visiting his grandfather in Port Angeles and had a lifelong ambition to move there, but has no regrets about moving to Sequim. Berg and his wife, Trina, raised two sons here, Per, 24, and Izaak, 22.

Revitalizing the formula

Even after years of teaching familiar equations and concepts, the teaching fire keeps burning for Berg.  In recent years, he's been able to add math analysis, a high school pre-calculus course, for about 40 students in two periods. Berg said it gives him a chance to relearn topics from a long time ago and stay fresh.

At 58, Berg said he intends to teach at least four more years. "I want to keep going as long as it's fun, and it's been fun," he said.

One story he takes joy in is about a 2010 graduate whom he helped to success in his math class. As a junior, she was retaking algebra. Berg and fellow teacher Brian O'Hara encouraged her to retake the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test after she'd failed it the year before. She needed 400 points to pass and that's exactly what she got the second time.

"She came in and was jumping up and down because she was so happy," Berg said. "It made me really, really happy too."

Here are a few of Berg's educational accomplishments in Sequim.
  • Nationally board certified in 2008
  • Facilitator for national board candidates, including five this year
  • Started Math Counts, a math competition at Sequim Middle School
  • Helped involve Sequim students in the ongoing Math Olympiad
  • Started involvement with American Mathematics Contest at Sequim Middle School and later brought it to the high school for 10th- and 12th-graders
  • Began participation in the University of Washington's Math Day with different classes, lectures and activities on careers using "real world" math
  • Writes an education blog "Stories from School: Practice makes Perfect" at www.storiesfromschool.org through the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.
  • Berg's hobbies include hiking, snowshoeing and organic vegetable gardening.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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