As a Catholic, Dean Wackerman considers himself a religious man.So when it came to deciding whether or not to run for school board, he looked, in part, to a higher power.
"I tried to look for signs that God wanted me to do this," Wackerman said.
It was in the last week to file a petition to be put on the May primary that Wackerman finally made his decision to run for director on the Quakertown Community School Board (and when he read the results of a survey that polled graduates on their opinion of the integrated math curriculum).
He will now face off against a total of four candidates in Region 2 - Milford Township and Trumbauersville Borough - all of whom cross filed, and is looking to run for one of the two open seats in the region.
"I felt the school board cheated me," he said. "I felt they let me down."
Wackerman, a Lieutenant Commander in the active Navy reserves, had experience with the district's math curriculum - a form of reformed math versus traditional - through his two daughters.
While Wackerman, a 1978 graduate of Quakertown and graduate of Penn State University, couldn't make sense of it, his daughters could, consistently remaining straight A students, which Wackerman said led him to believe the district was making the right decision.
"I made a lot of assumptions," he said. "I thought 'The school district knows better than me.'"
But when he read the results of the surveys, filled out by 22 percent of the 2006 graduates, Wackerman began to look at the situation differently.
"We unprepared our kids for college," Wackerman said.
The debate over the district's reformed math program - which focuses on concepts and teaching a combination of math skills like geometry and algebra, building upon those from year to year, versus traditional, where students complete a specific level of math before moving to the next - heated up over the past year, with the board hearing criticisms from residents and recent graduates, who claim the program left them ill-prepared for college.
After a math task force investigated the curriculum, which included reviewing the surveys, the board voted to switch to a more traditional themed program in grades nine to 12, based on the overwhelming negative responses to the program.
While Wackerman has since signed onto a group that calls itself the reform candidates, comprised of a total of four individuals running for the school board, it's the integrated math program that remains his greatest criticism of the current board.
A stay-at-home father, who spends eight days a month plying a C12 for the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, Wackerman said he knew nothing of the reform candidates when he made his decision to run.
The candidates already have a plan of reform they intend to stand by if elected. The plan covers educational performance and academics, productivity, incentive and metricsbased management and cost control.
Though his primary catalyst to running for school board concerns integrated math, Wackerman said he doesn't disagree with the reform platform.
"What's on there that's bad?" Wackerman asks, in regards to why he signed on to support it.
The plan includes promises to cut costs, not programs and increase achievement in students, among many other specific initiatives addressing those subjects.
The reform candidates are backed by current directors Manuel Alfonso and Paul Stepanoff, and have since taken on the stigma that if elected they'll all vote in whatever way those directors want.
"I'm nobody's pawn," Wackerman said. "When an issue arises, I'm going to do what I think is right no matter what the reform platform says."
According to Lou-Ellen Renshaw, a fellow reform candidate who will also be running in Region 2, Wackerman's sentiment is the same for all the reform candidates.
"There seems to be a general misconception that the 'reform' candidates (Dean, George, Thomas and myself) are always going to vote the same way and support whatever Paul Stepanoff or Manuel Alfonso want," she said. "That couldn't be further from the truth. We decided to run together on the plan listed at our Web site only because we all agreed.
"We will not always agree, and we realize that is good."
While this would be his first term as a public official, Wackerman has a long history of being a leader, with a distinguished military career.
He was an active member of the Navy for nine years, while his wife, Linda, was active for 13. The two met in flight school. Linda, a pilot for American Airlines, and also an active reservist, spending four days a month on duty as a Commander at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., is credited with being the first female commander officer to fly a C9.
Up until 1997, Wackerman and his wife both worked fulltime jobs, each of which went well beyond the typical 40- hour week. At that time, he said they needed to make a decision, resulting in him staying at home with the children
"It was the best decision we ever made," he said. "You can't have a healthy family if both parents are working 60 hours a week."
Wackerman received a degree in mining engineering from Penn State University and a master's in management from Troy State University. Other than for his time in college and in the Navy, Wackerman has spent his whole life living in the district.
While Wackerman may have felt betrayed by the board, he's developed a great respect for the teachers in the district.
He also doesn't have too many criticisms to launch against the current board.
"The current school board is doing the best they can, doing what they think is right,"
Wackerman said. "It's just time for a change. I have no issues with our board members. Nobody takes that job and does not do what they think is right.
"They vote for what they think is best. They've made mistakes. If I get elected I'm going to make mistakes. When a decision's made, no matter what the decision is, you can only be certain you're 50 percent right."
With almost every decision made, Wackerman said only 95 percent of the facts are presented.
"You make that decision based on that 95 percent, however, that missing 5 percent can completely affect how you would have made that decision," he said. "You never have 100 percent of the information. No one ever gets the full story in every situation."
As a board member, Wackerman says he'll be outspoken. As a person who says he cannot tell a lie, Wackerman is often called upon for the blunt truth from his own family.
"I wouldn't make a decision until all possible angles were explored," he said. "The decision making process has to be slowed down."
Wackerman believes in more communication to the public, in investigating issues brought to board through outside consultants and examining each issue as it arises.
As far as the three incumbents running for reelection, which includes Linda Martin who's also running in Region 2, Wackerman says they've been on the board too long.
"That's why there's term limits," he said.
As a reform candidate or an individual, if elected, no matter what the issue, it boils down to one thing for Wackerman.
"Truly, bottom line, it's about what's best for the kids, ensuring the kids really get the education they deserve," he said. "That's all I really care about. Politics shouldn't be apart of the school board. This is about the education of our children."