Gary Piercey, Francis Tuttle Technology Center, Oklahoma City
2017 Oklahoma Medal of Excellence in Secondary Teaching
Gary Piercey, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches advanced math courses at Francis Tuttle Technology Center’s Biosciences and Medicine Academy, a program serving students from more than 11 high schools. Piercey’s “whole student” approach combines rigorous academic preparation, active learning, community service and leadership opportunities.
“Gary takes a subject that is not exciting for many students and breathes new life into it,” said colleague Pat Brown. “At any given time, I might walk the halls and see students modeling quadratic equations through a frog-jumping contest. He takes students and lifts them up, walks them through the rocky journey of mathematics, and they become National Merit Scholars and part of elite groups such as Medical Humanities Programs. …”
Piercey takes the intimidation out of math through fun learning activities such as math scavenger hunts, chalking math problems on sidewalks, and even singing math songs. “Picture a teacher singing ‘Great Math Class’ to Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance,’” Piercey says.
A 24-year teaching veteran, Piercey goes the extra mile to support students’ academic preparation, offering online tutoring and more than 500 hours of instructional podcasts, which he provides through an iPod Touch check-out system. The average math ACT score for 21 Academy seniors in 2014 jumped from 19.1 to 27.8 after spending three years in Piercy’s math courses.
As part of his “whole student” approach, Piercey encourages students to engage in community service and joins them in their endeavors. Over the past six years, he and his students have volunteered more than 5,000 hours to such causes as Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, Ronald McDonald House and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Some of the projects, such as painting a house for Habitat for Humanity, have even included a math component as students estimated labor and materials costs.
Former student Grace Karanja, a junior at Amherst College in Massachusetts, credited Piercey with seeking out leadership opportunities and scholarships to help her and other students succeed. “Dr. Piercey is one to give and give some more. He is a teacher. He is a counselor. He is a motivator. He is a big brother. He is a life compass,” Karanja said. “He has been a navigator on both my academic and personal careers, ... and I will be eternally grateful.”