Be the Change: Dave Theno – Encouraging Students to Discover Their Unique Paths

Dave Theno found his niche as an administrator and teacher at Golden Eagle Charter School in Mount Shasta in 2005. Golden Eagle offers a combination of independent learning and classroom instruction. Dave’s work includes managing the school’s 6th-12th grade program, teaching classes in music and social studies while facilitating student learning. His focus is on helping students achieve three things: discovering their true selves, engaging in civil discourse and personalizing their learning plan.

As a teenager, Dave moved to Modesto, California, and became deeply focused on creating music. After high school, he attended the University of California at Davis (UCD) to pursue a degree in English. Dave didn’t start out thinking he would become a teacher. But as life unfolded, he felt drawn to working with young people. During his studies at UCD, Dave became fascinated with linguistics, and added a teaching emphasis to his degree path, which allowed him to explore language in depth. After graduating from UCD, his focus on music remained steady and he enjoyed performing with a number of bands.

Dave, shown with his son Rowan (14), is an inspirational force at Mt. Shasta’s Golden Eagle Charter School.

In 1996, Dave and his wife moved to Mt. Shasta and fell in love with the community. Dave discovered that he enjoyed spending time with his friends’ children, and was intrigued by the idea of “being able to re-experience childhood through spending time with a 6-year old.” So with an English degree already in hand, Dave decided to pursue teaching.

After earning his teaching credential in 2000 from Simpson University in Redding, Dave’s first teaching job was at Options for Youth, a school for at-risk high school students. When that school closed in 2005, Dave joined the team at Golden Eagle and blossomed in their alternative education environment. He was given latitude to teach subject matter in a personalized way, and he provides rich content with academic rigor.

Golden Eagle’s Director, Shelly Blakely, says, “Dave is an exceptional teacher, administrator and school leader. The students love him. He inspires them to love learning and to embrace their own individual talents.” He provides guidance to each student as they discover who they are.

Personalized learning is an important part of Dave’s work at Golden Eagle, building a plan of daily work that incorporates the student’s unique interests and preferred learning style. Dave explains, “…everybody has certain things that are special to them…we should do what we can so that people can pursue the things they love, and youth is no different. In fact, that is the best time to be able to pursue those things, so you can really build a lot of capacity and ability when you are not worried about where your rent is going to come from.”

Whether the student is an athlete dreaming of becoming a firefighter, or an artist wanting to sit quietly and sketch, Dave teaches that each person has value and is worthy of respect. His students learn to engage in civil discourse. He explains that people may come to situations (including the classroom) with different backgrounds and worldviews, yet they can learn to communicate and reach across that perceived divide.

Dave was inspired to create this dynamic, nurturing environment where different viewpoints can exist simultaneously and everyone gets to be themselves. He says, “That’s the exciting part…to help create a model for how to have a civil dialogue when we are all so different from each other…it’s an interesting time to be in education.”

In his free time, Dave immerses himself in music. He performs with “Champion Club,” a six-piece 20-30s swing band, and collaborates on other music projects when time permits. Nathan Johnston, a fellow musician and friend, shares, “As a musician, Dave is an incredible listener and observer. He has the sensitivity to know when to lead and when to step back and make space for something great to happen. I think students sense this, and it builds their confidence that Golden Eagle is a great place to learn, to try on new ideas, to build self-motivation. It’s the same kind of space that gives a jazz trio room to play and improvise, to create something greater than anyone could have planned on their own. The kind of space Dave creates seems critical in developing curiosity – it seems there’s inherent risk in being curious because you might push on the boundaries of what you think you know, who you think you are. But, Dave’s care provides young people the confidence and space to cultivate their own curiosity. Dave is genuinely interested in what they’re thinking about and how they see the world.”

Dave lives in Dunsmuir, “in a sweet little spot by the river,” with his wife Jen Conneely, their two children, Fiona and Rowan, and three cats. Dave Theno can be reached at Golden Eagle Charter School (530) 926-1140 or dave@gecs.org.

The mission of our Be the Change column is to feature community members from the North State who are actively making a difference in community life. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to pn@northstateparent.com.

Victoria Tyra
About Victoria Tyra

Author Victoria Tyra is a Certified Barton Reading Tutor with an office in Redding, CA. She specializes in teaching reading and spelling to school-aged children with her golden retriever, Ella.

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