Back in the day in St. Helena, when Gordon Anderson was teaching math at St. Helena High School and Jason Kelperis was learning it, the young student received an unsatisfactory 89 on a test and asked what he could do to improve his grade.
Anderson told him he could tutor other math students an hour a week. “I had no idea what I was doing, but within a month I raised a student’s grade by a full letter,” Kelperis recalled.
Kelperis did more than improve grades. He enjoyed the experience so much that he started on a career path that eventually landed him in the same position once held by Anderson. After five years teaching at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School, Kelperis began teaching algebra and precalculus at St. Helena High. He’s been teaching for the St. Helena Unified School District since 2001.
“I don’t know any other way,” said Kelperis, who was born and raised in St. Helena. “I had really big shoes to fill — Gordon Anderson’s and Wayne Cooper’s. They modeled what I wanted in a teacher. They were always there for me, after hours or after school, making me feel I could cover any subject, not just mathematics, if I was dedicated to it. They set a standard for teaching.”
Kelperis tried to match that standard on his first day of teaching at the high school. “I felt like I was expected to get to school first,” he recalled. “But that was more than five years ago, when I was raising a family and getting here before 7 a.m. wasn’t realistic. But, I realized that beating Gordon Anderson or Wayne Cooper to school wasn’t making me the best teacher.”
Kelperis says he measures his success by how the students benefit from his teaching.
“They appreciate that I’m teaching them real applications and having them do projects that are directly related to the mathematics we do,” Kelperis said.
He knew he was succeeding when student Nicholas Cazet asked to start a tutoring program, following the example Kelperis set years ago for Anderson.
“Last year we started a drop-in tutoring program, and this year we are continuing the program but focusing on struggling algebra students,” Kelperis said. “We are building a peer tutor program with a one-to-one ratio, so each student will be mentored by one tutor.”
As a teacher, he has learned, “you gotta be yourself — be funny or entertaining, and honest. I can tell kids when I’m having a good day and when I’m having a bad day and need their help.”
Someday, he suggested, one of his students may continue the St. Helena tradition of teaching excellence.
“Someone may be great at discovering the next best thing,” he said. “I might not be able to teach it. I wouldn’t be as successful without my students, and in the 20th century there really is a superhighway of information.”
Kelperis’ love of knowledge and teaching blossomed at Santa Clara University, where he studied math, theater, anthropology and biology. Later, at Humboldt State University, he studied science and earned a bachelor’s degree. He even spent a semester studying music at the University of New Orleans.
“I feel blessed because I get to work in the classroom, and I have seen the whole continuum from sixth to 12th grade,” Kelperis said.
His love of education is why he writes grants to local foundations in search of funds for career fairs, math programs and field trips “for any kid interested in math and science,” he said.
At RLS, Kelperis was heavily involved in developing the Nature Trail, adding community service to the student lesson plan. “It was only natural for me to want to give back,” he said.
Kelperis and his wife, RLS art teacher Kendra Kelperis, have four sons, ages 3, 5, 8 and 11.
(This article was provided by the St. Helena Unified School District.)