Dear Linda

The art of mathDear Linda,

Fifteen years ago you let a pigtailed 2nd grader walk down the hall and take 5th grade math.

We came to you as the principal of our elementary school in Minnesota and said, “She’s ready for something more.” You smiled at us, looked at the data, and said, “We’ll find a way to make it work.” And then you and your teachers did exactly that.

It didn’t matter that she had to miss time in other subjects; she made it up. It didn’t matter that she was a tiny sprite compared to those bigger kids. All that mattered was that she adored math and could keep up. Every day when it was math time for the fifth graders, she walked down the hall and joined them. She loved it so much. She had a math-themed birthday party that year!

The next year we did the same, but with sixth grade math. And then we moved.

Our new school district in Iowa didn’t quite know what to do with her. But inspired by what you had made possible, every year – somehow – we found a way to make it work. One year in elementary school the best we could do was a self-paced, ‘teach yourself’ model with occasional check-ins with the Gifted and Talented teacher. One year in middle school she had to take a boring, non-interactive online course. In high school she sometimes had to hop on a city bus (or two) to go take math classes at the local university. But she did it. She stayed three years ahead all the way through…

Fifteen years later I am proud to say that pigtailed 2nd grader graduated this past spring with a B.S./M.S. in Civil Engineering from Case Western. She was an officer in the Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable student group. She helped the university steel bridge team go to nationals for the first time. And two months ago she entered the world of work as a happy bridge designer in New York (and, yes, we miss her tremendously).

Linda, a decade and a half ago you were willing to think outside the box. You didn’t throw up unnecessary roadblocks. You didn’t force our kid to fit the system. You just found a way to take our 2nd grader where she was and move her forward instead of letting her stagnate in some arbitrary ‘grade level.’ Collectively you and your teachers just made it work. With a smile. And it made a huge difference for her.

We need more principals like you. We need more schools like yours. We need more pathways that personalize students’ learning and empower them for future life success. Every child deserves the opportunities that our pigtailed daughter had. Thank you for leading as school administrators should, not just for our 2nd grader but for all of the other students that walked your halls as well. We will be forever grateful.

Yours truly,


Image credit: The art of math or the math of art, Alan Levine

4 Responses to “Dear Linda”

  1. This just gave me the chills.

    It’s exactly what the best of educators can do.

    Thank you, Linda, from me and many who admire what you do every day. You put children first.

    Congratulations, Scott, to you, your wife, and your daughter.

  2. Scott, thank you so much for sharing this with us. It resonated so much for me that I am reminded of the impact that we can have as one educator with one student with one act resulting in the huge success of one student ‘s lifetime. This, to me, is the epitome of being an excellent educator emphasizing the significance and impact we can have on shaping the lives of our students by one simple act.

    I can’t imagine how proud you made the principal feel, as well as each of the teachers that had a part in steering your daughter toward success in her educational journey Into her career in adulthood. I would be so honored to be one of the educators that had even a small part in directing your daughter along her academic journey.

    I truly hope this resonates and refocuses us and spurs us into action to be an educator that helps youngsters start on their path to success. It may not be towards college no matter how much we want that for our students and it may not be a career building bridges but it can be one act to make a difference and change the life of one student at a time with one action at a time causing a domino effect of success that started with that one act of one educator.

    I plan to share this story with my fellow educators and hope it serves as a reminder that each of us has the power to influence and guide our students onto a learning path of great joy, hard work and reward for the student, parents and ourselves. What an honor it would be to be the principal in this story and receive this message from you.

    Again, thank you for sharing!

  3. Oh and of course congratulations to that pig tailed 2nd grader and you and your wife on raising such a talented, adventurous, determine young lady! Best wishes to you, your wife and your daughter and may she achieve her vision, dreams and goals she has set for herself!

  4. This is exactly what educators should be doing at all levels. No two students learn exactly the same or at the same pace. Well done to all involved.

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