In The Limelight

Daniel Jackson

Interview by Teresa Nguyen

February, 2020

"When I graduated from high school, I never thought I’d come back. But I’m so glad I did. This feels like home to me." ~ Daniel Jackson

Dean of Students - Marshall Middle School

Vice Chair - Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship

African American Liaison Committee Member

2019 Leadership Development Academy Graduate

Former Parker High School Head Wrestling Coach

Former UW Whitewater as Assistant Wrestling Coach

2015 American Ninja Warrior Contestant

The Early Years

I was originally born in Chicago. My father worked for General Motors and for a while was commuting from Chicago to Janesville. Eventually, he transferred here to the plant and moved the family up to Janesville. After the closing of GM in Janesville, my parents transferred down to Arlington, Texas. They’ve been down there since 2009, but I believe after his retirement this year, they have plans to come back up.

I attended k-12 in the School District of Janesville. I went to kindergarten in Monroe Elementary, which is interesting because now my twins are now in kindergarten at Monroe. Then we moved to the west side where I attended Washington, then Franklin and graduated from Parker High School in 2003.

On the beach with my brother as a child.
Daniel and his older brother playing on the beach 

Higher Education

In high school, I was dead set on becoming a dentist. I was accepted to the University of Minnesota. But, as young people change their minds a few times before they get it right, I did that, too. My sophomore year I visited a dental school and realized it wasn’t for me.

Thankfully, I was supported in the athletic department. I participated in wrestling. The counselors there guided me and helped me to find something else I could do for a career.

 

I had been taking courses in African American Studies. In talking to my counselor, he told me I had enough credits in this area that I could potentially major in that. So that’s what I did. Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I was planning to go into Public Health Administration. So, I have a minor in Public Health and another minor in Family Social Science. 


My plan was to graduate and then go on to further my degree in Public Health. But my plan changed again. I had applied to the ELPA Program (Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis) at UW Madison and was accepted! I moved back to Wisconsin with the intention of becoming a college athletic director.


I reconnected with Ron Cramer, the former wrestling coach at Parker. He had encouraged me to become a teacher.

Daniel's graduation from the University of Minnesota in 2008
with his maternal grandmother, father, mother, brother and sister

I had graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008, which is around the time the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship was formed. Ron was very persuasive and encouraged me to apply to the scholarship. Thankfully, I applied and was accepted and received funds to pursue my teaching certification through Concordia University.

 

I already had my undergrad degree so it was just a two-year program. I was enrolled in the ELPA Program and then changed my masters to pursue my Principal Certification, which I have now

Early Career

My first employment back in Janesville was at Edison Middle School as an At-Risk teacher. It’s called At Promise now. There hadn’t been an At-Risk position at the time. I was to work with students who were at risk of not graduating from high school. I was starting from the ground up, which gave me the autonomy to design the program and curriculum. At the time, it was a daunting task, fresh out of my certification program.

I was at Edison for three and a half years. It was basically a kind of homework retention program. Some of these children really had a lot going on in their home life. Sometimes they had incarcerated parents and many had some educational gaps. Homework retention should not have been the focus of this program.

 
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Daniel's graduation with his second Master's degree from Concordia University with his wife, Trina, and two stepchildren

The next year, I changed the model so that it was more about building their social awareness and “Let’s focus on you a little bit.” Additionally, I would teach them math and reading, almost like a second class in each for them. I would collaborate with their reading and math teachers on this program, continued to grow it and it seemed to be really beneficial to the kids.


I recently got an email from one of those first students. He wrote, “Mr. Jackson, if it hadn’t been for you, I might not have graduated this year. All the work you did was so helpful to me.” That’s what makes it so rewarding.

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My ultimate goal was to get into administration. I knew I needed more classroom experience. A position opened up at Marshall Middle School for a Family and Consumer Economics teacher. It was called Transitions, a sixth-grade version of FACE, basically teaching life skills to students. The year I took on the position, they had changed the direction and the new push was college and career readiness. Again, I was on the forefront of developing a new curriculum.


I taught mostly sections of sixth grade Transitions and had a couple sections of eighth grade FACE. That program was more geared for college and career readiness, so I was able to incorporate financial literacy and college readiness in to these classes.


I’m glad of this change. A lot of kids don’t get that information until sophomore year of high school and then in junior year they’re already taking the ACT tests and have to make a quick decision. I’m proud to be part of a district where this is the goal, to ready them for post high school education.

It’s not a cookie cutter system. College is not for all kids and there are a lot of programs out there for students, apprenticeship programs they can get into. You don’t have to go to a four-year college to be successful. I feel that in the past, there was a stigma associated with kids who didn’t go to four-year college. That’s changing. They’re made aware of places like Blackhawk Technical College. I've had community members come in and talk about their professions to the students.

Mr. Jackson at Marshall Middle School

"Mr. Jackson, if it hadn’t been for you, I might not have graduated this year."

~ A letter from a former student

Dean of Students


I had been working for a couple of years as a Transitions/FACE teacher. Then in 2017 this position opened up. My ultimate goal is to get into administration, so I applied for it and was blessed to get the position.

 

It’s a dream job. Sometimes I question, “Why do I get paid for this job?” because I do love it! It’s very rewarding, even more rewarding than working in the classroom. I have the opportunity to work with even more challenging kids on a regular basis and build up their resiliency. I want to give them hope, something more than this tunnel vision they see.

In middle school, these children are dealing with a lot. It’s a tough time. The transition from elementary to the middle school is hard – in sixth grade, they’re still figuring things out, by seventh grade, there’s a hormonal factor in there and they get bewildered trying to figure things out, and by eighth grade year it’s critical in regards to getting these kids ready for high school.

You might think they look up to me but, actually, they look down on me because I’m so short! (laughs) I try to build a relationship with them the best I can. One of the benefits of being in my position is that I do have a lot of one-on-one time with the students and we are able to engage in authentic conversations.

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Daniel Jackson, Dean of Students, working in his office at Marshall Middle School

A lot of times a label is given to a student who presents a lot of troubles in the classroom. However, when I have them in my office and sit with them one on one, you can see that they are dealing with a lot of baggage that they don’t know how to deal with. Their behavior in the classroom is a symptom of a bigger issue. They’re able to tell me these stories. There are a lot of tears shed in my office. I wish they could present this side of themselves to their teachers, because that one side is all they see. 


We have a significant educational gap, not only in Janesville, but across the country. I feel that a lot of students of color, especially, fall into this single story where they feel, “The world is against me and I can’t move past.” Somehow, we have to break that cycle. I think we’re doing a lot of great things in this district, there are a lot of good people working on changes, but I think there’s always room to grow. I hope things level out a little bit. It will take time.

Mr. Jackson chats with a student in the hall.
Photo by 8th grade student Taryn Poland

When I first graduated with my Principal’s Certification, I was so eager to jump right to administration. But, oh my goodness, I’m so glad I had this stepping stone from the classroom to the Dean of Students and eventually I hope to finish there, in a principal's position. There’s a lot that goes into it! Even as a teacher, I didn’t fully comprehend it. We see administrators and sometimes wonder what they do all day.

 

But, even in this position, I’m busy from 7:45 to 3:23. It's busy all day long! And I don’t leave the building, on average, until about 5 o’clock. I love that about my job. But, it’s ongoing, putting out fires with kids in the classroom, calls to parents, meetings with teachers, unexpected meetings…it’s nonstop.

Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship


In the School District of Janesville, 28% of the students are students of color and less than 2% are teachers of color. 


In the last few years, I’ve presented information in the schools on the JMTS to interested students. This year was the first year I have gone into all the high schools in Janesville, including the charter schools. It was fascinating to learn how many students were unaware of the program and how by the end of the presentation you have kids who are starting to think, “I really could be an educator.” 


Currently, I serve as Vice Chair of JMTS. It’s wonderful to see the impact JMTS can have on the student body.

 
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Daniel with board members and recipients of the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship

Leadership Development Academy


I attended the LDA and graduated in May of 2019. Our team did a project with Rock County veterans, documenting their stories in collaboration with Drywater Productions. We captured around a dozen stories from a variety of veterans. It was really incredible. 


African American Liaison Committee


I’ve been involved with the AALC committee, though we took a little pause for a while. Now we’re resuming the meetings. We’re planning to revamp some things to continue that connection between the Police Department and the community.

Race Relations and Diversity


My wife and I, along with her family, went out for a lovely evening to a popular dinner theater in Fort Atkinson. There I was, dressed in my suit, browsing in the gift shop for a while. I notice the employee was kind of circulating toward me a little. It became a kind of uneasy encroachment, they were always there, wherever I went in the shop. If I had wanted to purchase something, I could have, but every time I moved, the employee moved with me.


My wife, who is Caucasian, noticed it and told me that no one had followed her, or crept around her. It made me realize we still have a way to go with race relations in our society. 

Leadership Development Academy Class of 2018-2019

A lot of things have improved, though. Growing up in Janesville, when I reflect on my k-12 experience, there weren’t a lot of kids who looked like me. But now, I go into my child’s kindergarten classroom and see that the level of diversity has changed a lot. As I mentioned earlier, the percentage of students of color now is up to 28%. That’s a positive thing.

A Passion for Wrestling

My journey of coaching wrestling was a pretty cool journey.

I was a Walk On at the University of Minnesota and then received a scholarship my sophomore year. It was a pretty incredible opportunity.

 
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Daniel and his wife, Trina

We won the national title in 2007. I had the chance to train with past Olympians, national champions and world team members. It was amazing.


As soon as I had graduated from college, I was helping out at Parker High School as a volunteer coach. After that, I was hired at UW Whitewater as Assistant Coach, working mainly with the lightweights.


During my student teaching, I was hired as Head Coach in Greenfield. I don’t know why I did that. It was a daily hour and fifteen-minute commute, plus tournaments on the weekends! I did that for one year. I couldn’t see myself driving anymore.

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Daniel wrestling at the University of Minnesota
Press Conference 2019 Professional Wrest
At a 2019  conference for the Professional Wrestling League with Dan the Beast Severin

After taking a year off, I started an unofficial, local wrestling club. My stepson was part of the Python Group, a youth wrestling program here in Janesville. But he was losing interest in it and, being an avid wrestling fan, I didn’t want to see that. I got a mat in my basement and had some of his wrestling friends over. We ran the club for three years, during his middle school years. He actually made it to the State Tournament! 


I had also started a professional wrestling team. I never imagined it would go anywhere, but it got a lot further than I expected. While coaching, I used to give those pep speeches, “If you want something bad enough, you gotta’ go for it and do it.” 

Coaching at Parker 2017.jpg

So, for the professional team, I did the research, got investors involved, made a website and was able to attract world team members, national champions to the team. It was the cream of the crop, just incredible. All the pieces were in place, but we just weren’t able to sell enough tickets to fund the league. The dream was put on hold for a while.


I was hired as Parker High School’s Head Coach and did that for five years. About two years ago, I stepped down. It was challenging having Dean of Students position and then to make it over there by 3:50. My last year I couldn’t dedicate enough time and energy to it and felt like I wasn’t giving enough to the wrestlers. I felt they deserved more. But I do miss the kids.

Daniel as Head Coach for Parker High School Wrestling

American Ninja Warrior


I followed that same “Go for it” philosophy when I applied and participated in American Ninja Warrior in 2015. To participate in the competition, I completed an online application and sent in an audition video, which our daughter, Kyira, created before the January deadline.  

Watch Daniel's fun audition video: 


I was notified on April 7th that I was going to compete on the American Ninja Warrior course in Kansas City, Missouri on April 17, 2015!  I didn’t have much time to train, however, but I did a bit of rock climbing and continued with my weight lifting plan at the time. 

The family all came to the event to see me. I didn’t do very well, but that was an incredible experience. I would do it again! Meanwhile, I plan to participate in the Crazylegs Classic in April.

 
2015 Kansas City with olest son Keaton.j
With stepson, Keaton, at American Ninja Warrior competition

Family


It was a good move to quit coaching. I have two six-year-old twins and I don’t want to miss out on their lives. They’re starting to get more involved. 


My wife’s name is Trina. I have two stepchildren, Kyira who is a junior at UW Madison going for a degree in Psychology and a minor in Art and an 18-year-old stepson, Keaton. He recently joined the Marines, went out to train in California and we were just there for the graduation. I would have never imagined he would join the Marines, but he loves it.

 
Entire family at son Keaton's Marine Gra
Moving daughter Kyira to UW Madison
At son Keaton's Marine Corps Graduation
The twins, Krimson and Kenza

Family

My wife and I are writing a special children’s book for the twins, which we hope to share with them this summer. Our oldest daughter is going to illustrate the book. I’m truly amazed by their reading skills already, so the timing is perfect! It’s convenient to have the twins at Monroe, I can drop them off and pick them up so easily since it’s right next to Marshall.

Role Models


My Father, Jeremiah Sr., provided life lessons about working hard, but most importantly instilled the importance of obtaining my education. It was never a question of whether or not I was going to college, rather it was where was I going to go.

 

Mr. Jeff Sorenson was my middle school wrestling coach at Franklin Middle School.  He saw something in me and encouraged me to participate in wrestling. Once in the sport, he was instrumental in helping me obtain many of my athletic goals.

J Robinson was my college wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota.  He taught me the true definition of perseverance and hard work. After wrestling under his tutelage, everything else in life was a little easier.  He helped shape my perspective on life.  


When I moved back to Wisconsin in 2008, after completing my undergraduate degree at the Univesity of Minnesota, I was hired at Jefferson Elementary School as a special education aide.  I worked in Mrs. Joan Ries’s room, where she introduced me to education. She was instrumental in fostering my philosophical underpinnings of education - that every child deserves a high-quality education regardless of social-economic status, race, religion, gender, disability, etc. She gave me the autonomy to grow! 

What’s Next?


I’ll continue helping this community. I love this community.

Daniel Jackson, Dean of Students at Marshall Middle School

When I graduated from high school, I never thought I’d come back. But I’m so glad I did. This feels like home to me. Especially since this is where my kids are going to grow up, I just hope I can continue to make an impact. 

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Daniel, Trina and their growing family