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 Thorpe.
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) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU