New academic dean a teacher of learning

By Wayne Bryan Published February 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Bob Gregory became the academic dean at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in late January. Already a member of the school’s math department at the time of his selection, Gregory had served as interim dean beginning in the spring 2013 semester.

Bob Gregory, the dean of academic affairs at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, is a teacher of advanced mathematics, but he said the most important thing he wants to get across to his students is how to learn.

“I want to be a teacher of learning,” he said. “When new students come to the school, I tell them, ‘Test scores are what got you here, but we are changing the game. Here we value learning because you can solve any problem if you are learning.’”

The students at the residential school in Hot Springs are the juniors and seniors from around the state who are looking for academic challenges beyond what they were finding in their home schools. The classes at ASMSA often include subjects that out-distance high school studies and are comparable to advanced college courses.

“In most schools, high school mathematics go as far as calculus,” Gregory said. “Here, that is often our starting point. Most teachers will remember a once-every-20-years student who is at a much higher level academically. We have those here every year.”

Gregory was named the academic dean in late January after a nationwide search. A member of the school’s math department, he had served as interim dean since the spring 2013 semester.

“At the core of ASMSA’s living and learning environment is the need to understand that learning takes place in all moments of the day,” said Corey Alderdice, director of the school. “Bob has a tremendous amount of instructional and administrative experience in schools like ours that seek to inspire students in a variety of spaces and contexts.”

Gregory joined ASMSA in 2011. He previously taught at Webb School, a private school in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches. LSMSA is a residential public high school that focuses on science, technology, engineering, math and the arts, similar to ASMSA, Alderdice said.

The dean said his experience with advanced high school students taught him to keep their age in mind, not just their academic level.

“What we have to make ourselves remember sometimes is that these are high school students,” Gregory said. “The classes may be at the college level, but they are kids, and we have to treat them like that. They may be smarter, but they are not wiser.”

Gregory said working in a residential high school gives additional responsibilities to the faculty and administrators.

“Unlike a day school, the kids need more attention, and the teachers are the adults who are around,” he said. “I’m interested in what the kids are doing other than what they are doing in their classes.”

He said he makes it a point to attend student activities outside of the classroom. Attending activities allows him to interact with students in a different atmosphere than his office.

Until he was named dean, Gregory was also the coach of the school volleyball club team.

“We have been trying to schedule matches with teams at the other schools like ours,” he said. “We wanted to give them the experience of being the visiting team.”

As dean, Gregory also serves as the faculty supervisor. He said serving in an administrative position is very different than just being one of the teachers.

“I was never a quiet person when it came to expressing my opinion,” Gregory said. “When I was a faculty member, I wanted to make sure I was heard. Maybe my opinion wasn’t followed, but I was heard.

“Now I am the one seeking input, but I make the decision on my own, yet I have to show that I value the faculty’s ideas. I have learned to be quiet a bit more.”

The dean stays active in the classroom by teaching one class a year. In the spring, he co-teaches a class in chaos theory, a field of mathematics he has been studying since 1991. Gregory said the benefits of being in the classroom are twofold — the class allows him to interact on the classroom level with students, as well as stay in touch with what his faculty colleagues are experiencing.

Gregory said he never wanted to be a teacher when he was growing up. He had a career in professional baseball in mind until he entered Southern Illinois University and played on the college team his freshman year.

“When I got there, pitching was much better with drops, sliders and wicked curves,” Gregory said. “I switched to softball, and I was a math major, and I had always taken my studies seriously.”

Both his parents were mathematics teachers at Southern Illinois, and Gregory said his father was the biggest influence in his life.

“He was a both a teacher and a learner,” Gregory said. “When I was doing my math homework, I never wanted to ask him a question because if I did, he would try to teach me, when all I wanted was an answer.”

He said listening to his father’s lessons, Gregory developed a thinking process through which he learned best by listening.

Still not interested in teaching after graduation, Gregory joined Texas Instruments as an engineer at a plant in Louisville, Texas, that designed and built guided missiles.

Becoming disenchanted with weapons development, Gregory sought career counseling, and he said two choices were suggested.

“I could run a softball-theme bar or teach,” he said. “Being a risk-avoidance person, I became a teacher.”

He joined the math faculty at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.

“I went for one year and stayed for six,” Gregory said.

He became chairman of the school’s math department and was one of four people responsible for LSMSA’s academic program.

During his years in Louisiana, he met his wife at a mathematician’s convention. She was also a math teacher.

“Can you get geekier than that?” the dean asked, laughing.

The problem then was how the couple could live together because they had jobs in two states. Gregory found a job at the Web School in Knoxville, and his wife found a teaching position at the University of Tennessee at the same time.”

After 15 years, Gregory said, he wanted to return to the residential school environment and to the learning-based instruction he had experienced in Louisiana, and he and his wife joined the faculty at ASMSA three years ago.

Gregory said he tried to remain a learner, as well as a teacher. He has been studying about how leadership is developed, and he has become interested in brain research.

“The research has helped me articulate what I believe about learning and character development,” he said. “Everybody can become a leader by being a good citizen.

“I believe if you do your best, you don’t have to be deflated if you are not the best at what you do. If you are learning and growing and doing your best, you are in good shape.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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