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News from Mathnasium of Oak Park/ River Forest

Jana Frank of Mathnasium-Around Oak Park

Oct 23, 2015

Know Your Neighbors: Jana Frank of Mathnasium
Jana Frank

If you’re like me, you may have enjoyed some time people watching while dining (and/or imbibing) al fresco at Poor Phil’s in downtown Oak Park. And while doing so, the building across the street, the ‘Mathnasium’ probably caught your eye (and interest). You might decide that you would really like to know more about what goes on inside a Mathnasium. Are kids going in there to have FUN with math? How does it work? Who owns it? Why couldn’t I have had a Mathnasium growing up? Would I have gotten a higher ACT score in math? Gone on to fame and fortune?

I decided to ask (I left some of the more personal questions out). And I’m glad I did as I got to learn more about the inspirational woman who owns and operates Mathnasium – Jana Frank. Read on as she shares with us her inspiration for opening Mathnasium, her awesome hobby that allows her to fly through the air (is she a math superhero?), what she has learned through opening a business, how she has changed the lives of her students and their families…and more!

Around Oak Park
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What are you doing when not at work?

Jana Frank
I have a rather atypical hobby; when I am not at work you can usually find me doing Circus Arts. I love acrobatics and aerials, but my particular focus and passion is Flying Trapeze. I discovered it about 4 years ago and it is my favorite thing in the world to do.

AOP
You own a company here in Oak Park. Tell us about that. How did you get started?

Jana
Yes, I own and operate Mathnasium of Oak Park/River Forest, a math-only learning center. I started in the education field as a middle school math teacher and then taught 4th and 5th grades in the Chicago Public Schools.

While I loved the classroom and loved my students, I was quickly disillusioned by the system that is inner city public education. As the math coordinator for my team, I really struggled to compromise my knowledge of how children actually learn with the mandates to teach to the standardized tests and force feed formulas to my students without given proper time and opportunity to really allow them to explore or deeply understand the concepts. A mixture of factors including the school closings, the teacher strikes, and some unfortunate changes in my own school’s administration left me feeling like I wasn’t in the best place to share what I had to give. When I learned about the Mathnasium franchise with their philosophy of education to Make Math Make Sense, I knew I had found the right fit for me. Being part of a group of people who believe and are encouraged to teach using best practices in the true best interest of the students instead of public mandates and funding was so liberating after the bureaucracy of CPS. It is so rewarding every day to have the freedom and ability to teach in ways that really work for each individual student and, even more importantly, allows us to inspire kids to actually like math and get excited about it!

AOP
How did you become interested in math education? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?

Jana
I have always loved school. I have always had a passion for learning and love the idea that there is always something new to learn. There is so much out there to know about and school makes it all accessible. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher per say. My first love, really, is psychology and that is what I studied first in school. While I was helping my little sister with her homework once while toward the end of my undergraduate studies while home visiting she said to me, “You should be a teacher!” and a light bulb just kind of went off.

Teaching allows me to combine my two intellectual passions: learning and psychology. Having a background in psychology, particularly developmental psychology, has helped me really understand the brain and how it works and how people learn and how to cater to the multiple intelligences. After pursuing my Master’s in Education I began working in CPS. At the University of Chicago, there was a special program, the SESAME program started by Professor Paul Sally, specifically for Chicago Public School teachers to get endorsed in mathematics or science. I always loved math, but going of U of C and meeting the most energetic and brilliant mathematician really inspired me to concentrate on math education.

Math is so often presented as a series of unrelated rules and facts to memorize, and being able to help kids understand and even enjoy it by unifying the fundamental ideas of mathematics and make it an exciting and rewarding thing to study is what brought me to Mathnasium.

AOP
If you had to explain Mathnasium’s ‘mission statement’ to someone in two minutes, what would you say?

Jana
We Make Math Make Sense. It’s as simple as that. Kids don’t hate math, they hate being frustrated and intimidated by it. Our job is to help kids develop number sense so they aren’t just able to do it, but actually understand what they are doing and why. Since we individually assess each student and create a customized curriculum for them with the right starting points, we are able to set students on a path to success. More importantly than the math though, is the attitude and the confidence. What  makes what we do so much more amazing than any other tutoring company I have ever worked with or for is how much we care about our students as people and how hard we work to make sure they are enjoying what they are doing. If the way we are explaining it isn’t working for them, we will find another way. We will completely adjust our teaching methods to find the one that works best for each child and make sure every child who comes here feels welcome and encouraged to try their best. And we make it fun! Yes, math can be fun!

AOP
Where do you live? What inspired you to bring Mathnasium to Oak Park?

Jana
I live in Lincoln Park which makes my commute very easy. When looking to open my center I did a lot of research on the location options and fell in love with Oak Park. The education system here is wonderful and it is home to families who really care about their children and their children’s education. I looked in some of the northern suburbs but what really attracted me to Oak Park was the diversity here.

AOP
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Jana
A successful business grows by finding the right people and putting them in the right roles. You need to play to people’s strengths and set people up for success. As a leader, it is my job to find and recognize the right people to create a team of individuals who each have different strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and skills and give them the tools and opportunities to grow and develop in order to create something bigger than all of us.

AOP
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Jana
The most important thing is customer service.

AOP
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?

Jana
I’ve hired some people who were absolutely brilliant mathematicians who did not make very good tutors. It is not enough to know and love math, you must be able to communicate and empathize with students of all types. Many kids come to us hating math and feeling confused and overwhelmed by it. I need a staff of people who can understand how my students feel, connect with them, and walk them through the process of discovering how numbers work with patience and enthusiasm. I have gotten much more rigorous in my hiring procedures and candidate selection and screening process and feel much more confident about my ability to seek out the right people to work for me.

AOP
What has been your greatest success/what are you most proud of in your business experience?

Jana
My very first student went from an F to a B in a month and a half. He came in saying he hated math and within a couple weeks was telling everyone it was his favorite subject. We had a student dragged in on Mother’s Day telling his mom she was the worst mom in the world (on Mother’s Day!) for bringing him to a math place on a weekend to literally jumping out of the car and running in here each session. We had a high schooler come in the other day after starting here this school year and announce he earned his first A ever on a math test.

We have had many students come to us in hopes of getting into advanced math and not only make it in, but do exceptionally well in these advanced classes. Our Brag Board is literally covered in success stories and our parents are our greatest ambassadors. But it is not only grades that improve, but also attitudes and relationships. Parents come to us with horror stories of how they fight every night trying to get through homework to tell us that their homes have become peaceful, collaborative environments where their children are more willing to work on their homework and communication has greatly improved. It’s so much more than the improvement in school that makes what we do so amazing. Watching kids become better versions of themselves as they learn to believe and challenge themselves and gain confidence that carries over into all areas of their lives is my greatest success.

AOP
What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you in your career?

Jana
Becoming a business owner! I am one of four kids and we all have very distinct personalities. My baby sister is a hippy artist. My brother is a witty musician. My older sister is the type A business woman. I was the passionate, enthusiastic teacher. I am great at school and I am great with kids, and when it came to the idea of business, even though I come from a family of entrepreneurs, I never envisioned myself going that direction. I just wanted to work with people through either education or psychology.

I knew I wouldn’t just be a classroom teacher my whole life. I am a very ambitious person, I am never satisfied doing any one thing for long. That is why I love education so much, you can always change and grow and try something new if you take the time and effort to learn about it. I figured maybe I would go back and get a PhD and become a professor, or perhaps a teacher mentor. I never envisioned or thought I would have even liked being part of the business world- I always thought that was my older sister’s department. For the first year running Mathnasium, I just considered myself a teacher who happened to own the place she taught at. Since then, I have really grown into my role as an owner and manager and have surprised myself by how much I enjoy that role.

AOP
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?

Jana
I practically live at Mathnasium. I am never home. I keep more food in my mini fridge here at work than I do in my own apartment! If I had a couple more hours, it would be nice to actually spend some time in my condo. I would love to actually use my kitchen, cook something from time to time, read a book for leisure and actually spend time with my poor cat who only sees me to go to bed. I do thrive on being busy though, so most likely and realistically if I had more time I would probably just end up trying to squeeze in some more trapeze classes when I could.

AOP
What is your favorite season?

Jana
I love the springtime. I am not the biggest fan of winter, and I love when the grayness of everything starts to get colorful, and the smell of flowers and the sounds of birds chirping again after a long, cold, Chicago winter. I love sunshine and beautiful weather and when I can go outside without having to layer up first. I grew up the daughter of an environmentalist so we spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying nature and spring is the best time to do that.

AOP
And finally, with how do you stay organized? Any tips?

Jana
I love checklists! While my desk itself is never clean and I always have a minimum of 10 windows open on my computer at a time, checklists help me make sure I am prioritizing and getting through everything that is important.

For more information on Mathnasium and to get in touch with Jana, visit:

Mathnasium of Oak Park/River Forest

Jana Frank

212 S. Marion St,

Oak Park, IL 60302

Phone: (708) 613-4007

Email: oakparkriverforest@mathnasium.com

www.mathnasium.com/oakparkriverforest

https://www.facebook.com/MathnasiumOPR