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Topic: John Thorpe - NCTM's New Executive Director
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
John Thorpe - NCTM's New Executive Director
Posted: Aug 11, 1998 2:01 PM
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From NCTM News Bulletin, July/August 1998, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp. 1, 8

"One Can Always Do a Better Job"

John Thorpe Brings Work Ethic, Experience to NCTM

Sidebar: "My primary goal is to make sure we serve our members and serve
them well," says NCTM's new executive director, John Thorpe.

The beauty of a geometric figure. The elegance of a nice proof. The
internal coherence of mathematics. And all we've done and continue to do
to help students understand the broad presence of mathematics in the world
and how important it is. Those ideas are just a few aspects of what John
Thorpe, NCTM's new executive director, loves about mathematics.

Sharing those ideas through teaching has been one of the highlights of his
career. Now he brings that interest--plus years of experience teaching,
administering programs dealing with the development of materials for grades
K-12, and managing university academic programs--to NCTM as executive
director. "In just a few months," says NCTM President Glenda Lappan, "he's
already a passionate representative of NCTM. He talks about us as if he's
been with NCTM forever."

Foremost among his current interests are the NCTM Standards documents.
Says Thorpe, "One of the things that attracted me to the job was the
important work that NCTM is doing. The agenda for the next few years is
heavily focused on the Standards. And that's terribly important."

Thorpe expects the Standards 2000 project will continue to build on the
impact the original Curriculum and Evaluation Standards has had since 1989.
"Prior to 1989, schools and districts might have had their own guidelines,
but there was no model for everyone to examine. After the release of the
Standards, schools and states finally had an exemplary set of written
guidelines to consider, evaluate, and modify for their own local context."

The challenge is communication--one of Thorpe's goals is for NCTM to be
able to communicate more effectively with members, school and government
leaders, and
parents--and he's overseeing an expansion of NCTM's communications department.

Part of communicating is to listen and learn. "We know that there is a
variety of opinions about mathematics education, particularly about the
Standards," says Thorpe, who adds that "the Council listens carefully to
all those opinions and recognizes that there is constructive criticism from
which we can learn."

Sidebar: "We're frequently amazed at how similar our thinking is," says
NCTM President Glenda Lappan of working with NCTM Executive Director John

At NCTM since mid-April, Thorpe has been busy meeting, listening and
learning. He's met leaders at the U.S. Department of Education and the
National Science Foundation, educators at NCTM's Conference on Mathematics
in Poor Communities in Chicago, and dozens of volunteers serving on NCTM
committees. Plus, he's been meeting with staff and offering guidance.
"He's an incredibly fast study. I've watched him in action. He knows how
to listen, and he always asks just the right question," says Lappan.

Prior to becoming NCTM's executive director, Thorpe served as senior
vice-president and provost at Queens College at the City University of New
York, where he oversaw 31 academic departments and other programs and
centers. He also served as a professor of mathematics. Former colleague
Raymond Erickson, the dean of arts and humanities at Queens College, notes,
"John's style of leadership is quiet and thoughtful. He leads by example
and by having the respect of those who come in contact with him. John is
extremely high principled and fair." Erickson adds, "John was patient,
understanding, and always as helpful as he could be. I am grateful that I
had such a mentor to help gently guide me through my first years as an
academic administrator."

With all his administrative responsibility, Thorpe still carved out time
each year to teach, one of his favorite courses being Mathematics for
Elementary School Teachers. Notes Erickson, "John cares deeply about
teaching and was never happier than when he himself was teaching." Thorpe
was recognized for his teaching with the State University of New York
(SUNY) Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, which he received
while teaching at SUNY at Stony Brook.

Now he's delighted that he can put all his experience and interests to work
for NCTM. Says Thorpe, "My primary goal is to make sure we serve our
members and serve them well." And he sees the structure to do so already
in place. "I find the staff very alive and engaged--good people doing
great things," says Thorpe. The large number of NCTM volunteers, "key to
the success of NCTM," he says, "are dedicated and hard working and have
wonderful ideas."

But he still sees plenty of work to do. "We're doing a good job, but one
can always do a better job," says Thorpe. His work ethic is reflected in
the people he admires, "the people who really care and are enthusiastic
about what they are doing ... the people who go that extra mile."

Originally from Maine and then Long Island, Thorpe and his wife, Marilyn,
just bought a house in Herndon, Va., and are getting used to what the area
has to offer. Thorpe soon hopes to be sailing, bike riding, and catching
some live classical music. But he's still trying to figure out how to get
around the traffic. Regardless of the traffic congestion outside, it's
full speed ahead for Thorpe as NCTM's new executive director.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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