Rabun Gap Stories

Faculty Profile: Joe Vignolini, Mathematics Department Chair

Mr. Joe Vignolini is our Mathematics Department Chair and one of our Upper School math teachers.  He joined the faculty in 2021.  Mr. Vignolini holds a M.A. and a B.S. in Mathematics from Saint John’s University.  In addition to his role in the classroom, Mr, Vigonlini serves as a dorm parent and an assistant coach for cross country and track and field.  He holds a USATF Level II certification in distance, jumps, throws, and sprints.

What made you choose to work at Rabun Gap?

When looking at schools along the east coast we wanted a place where learning was more than memorizing and it was about skills. The goal of applied learning is very essential for me, my wife, and my kids. The location was also a draw as we wanted fewer external influences and to be able to spend more time together as a family. The Cirque program and opportunity for diverse activities for our children and for all students was also a draw. And the diversity of the student body both economically and socially was very important.

What did you do before coming to Rabun Gap?

I started teaching in New York City at an all-girls Catholic High School, then a Long Island public Middle School and High School before moving to Charlotte for 12 years, then to Northern Virginia for the past 7 years as a PreK-12 Mathematics Department Chair. I have been teaching for 29 years so far.

What makes Rabun Gap special to you?

Every day begins with a chance to walk in nature and start new. The community of the school and opportunities are great. Having a chance to see students in many different areas like in the dorm, dining hall, arts, and athletics helps me be a better academic instructor.

What have you enjoyed most working with our students so far?

Seeing change is good. When students move from "I can't do this" to " I am not sure" to "I can do this". It takes different amounts of time for students to evolve into deep thinkers, and seeing that happen is what motivates me. It is not the content but the student skills development that is most important and important for life long skills.

Why did you decide to become a teacher? 

I honestly wanted to be a stockbroker, business leader, or actuary.  I interviewed at several places in NYC after undergrad and was disappointed with what that looked like. I continued to get my master's then got into several doctoral programs, but was also disappointed with those. I really like making math have meaning, purpose and giving all people a chance to engage with it at a creative level. All you want to see is growth.

What is your teaching philosophy?  

I believe that teachers are guides for students, they do not dictate how and what is learned but create an environment where students can engage in the process, discover, fail, and rediscover. There are many ways to do the math, it is never all black and white, correct or incorrect. Being open is essential - because the wise teacher knows how little they know, and how much more there is to know. I do not like to lecture for much time, I prefer students to engage and try problems, talk to each other, and learn by doing. In the end, students need to own what they learn, and I cannot transfer all I know directly to them, it must be experienced.

You were also one of the Cross Country coaches.  What did you enjoy most about coaching?

I have coached girls softball, basketball, and volleyball as well as track and cross country for about 21 of the past 30 years. Coaching is teaching. I love to see students in different areas finding ways to succeed and recover from failure. One memory I have from this season is that the runners did not like speed workouts. So one day we did a workout with a low floor and high ceiling (much like I try when teaching). the expectation was six 400's at a race pace, with a max of 12. Given the choice, all did more than 6 and many finished with 12. They stopped when they felt they could not maintain that desire pace.  I have done that workout many times and seen runners who struggled with 6 by the end of the year ask if they can do more than 12. That is the definition of success.

Your two daughters attend school in the Lower and Middle School's and your wife, Jen, is one of our science teachers.  What is it like working at the same school that your family also attends and works?

This was a major desire. I met Jen at a different school we both worked at. Family is most important for us. While I have had my daughters at the same school, having everyone here has been nice. When anyone is facing a challenge we go through it together, as a family. I like to see them during the day as well as not spending a long time commuting every day.

What were you like in high school? 

I was at a Catholic High School for 4 years, in a class with 300+ students. I had my few friends, but really was just trying to get through school. I did cross country and track and was the editor for the literary magazine. It was the same school my mother graduated from as well as where all of my 4 sisters and brothers attended. It was also the 7th or 8th school I attended from K-12. I never really was myself until late in college. Being yourself is a vital part of high school.

What is your favorite memory from the time you have worked here so far?

Seeing my kids play on the playground after dinner and watching the Cirque program with my family. 

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone? 

Since the 4th grade I write poetry - and while In grade 4 I was published in a West coast student magazine and the Anchorage Times (Alaska).  
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School is a private, coeducational day and boarding school for grades Pre-K through 12. Centrally located between Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, and Asheville, NC, we prepare young people for college, career, and a lifetime of leadership and service.