by Sue Painter, Director of School History
It was start of recess on a recent morning and Barry stood at the open door of a third grade classroom, greeting each student as they hurried out to the playground. “I love third graders,” he said, “...everything new to them has a miraculous quality…” It’s clear that Barry is loving his final months teaching at MCDS in his new role as all-purpose Master Substitute Teacher. It’s not a surprise, though, given that Barry’s interest in and affection for children date back to his early days as a camp counselor, and that in leaving the school he has chosen to return to his beginnings.
Happenstance can set one’s life course in fortuitous but unexpected ways. As a young teacher in Bedford/Stuyvesant (Brooklyn), Barry was on a summer cross-country motorcycle trip with a pal. They spent a night at Samuel P. Taylor Park, and fell in love with the area. A year later, Barry and Linda headed to the Bay Area where Barry took a series of part-time teaching jobs while pursuing his Master’s. At one of these schools he met Anna Shannon, who later became Malcolm Manson’s secretary. They stayed in touch, and that’s how he heard MCDS was expanding its Upper School and looking for a teacher. Barry came in and talked with Malcolm and began his 43 year journey in the MCDS community, teaching both math and science for the first ten years.
Summers were largely spent overseeing the MCDS Summer Adventure Camp, the first 12 working with Ed Sibley at the helm and then 17 years leading the program himself. The camp was very popular and was open to the public, attracting around 600 different kids each summer. MCDS teachers were able to augment their income planning a variety of activities related to their interests, and each year 25 8th-graders were hired as counselors. (Spoiler alert: his early experiences as a young camp counselor influenced his own decision to move into teaching math, rather than pursuing a different math-driven career. Who could guess how this experience might influence other career decisions?) The Summer Adventure program closed after 25 years because of the wear and tear on-campus facilities, the stress and scramble to get classrooms ready again for the next school year, and the fact that many other camps for the same age group had started up by then. And, importantly, MCDS had taken steps to significantly raise faculty compensation through the Bold Steps Campaign.
Barry cites as highlights of his MCDS journey outside the classroom, his four trips to Joshua Tree and twelve years as part of the team leading the week-long 6th grade Pt. Reyes trip. Professional highlights include his trips with the People to People International Foundation, created by the Eisenhower administration, with a mission to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities. In 2003 he traveled to St. Petersburg (Russia) with an international group of math teachers, and in 2006 was honored to lead a similar delegation to Beijing. Because of Barry’s rank in the delegation he is front and center in all the photos from that exchange.
Meanwhile, the fish were swimming in the tank in his math classroom, the (unofficial) MCDS poker game was going strong, the relationships with colleagues at grade level and beyond were flourishing, and the long-standing habit of keeping up with alums brought Barry joy. Adding to the positive mix he founded MCDS Matheletes which for 30 years won multiple team and individual awards. His own math skills were kept sharp with his annual assignment to create the school’s master schedule, carefully balancing the requirements of academic class time and the array of specialist classes in art, music, drama, PE, world languages, education technology, etc. which involve all students.
Forty-three years in this community have shaped Barry’s perspective. Through lines he is quick to mention are the emphasis on encouraging curiosity (“lifelong learning”), academic rigor and the strong sense of connection between students, teachers and parents carefully nurtured over the years. He notes that having his daughter in school “softened him a little bit” – he understood from direct experience that sometimes things can go sideways for kids, and cutting a little slack is OK. His students have also taught him how to explain ideas in many ways to meet different learning styles, requiring flexibility and patience to support every child’s success. He cites his good fortune in always having a mutually supportive and intellectually strong math department.
With more spare time coming up Barry and Linda look forward to more traveling, hiking and time with friends. Happy trails, Barry!