Message from NCSM President, Paul Gray


That’s What Bold Leadership Looks Like


A few years ago, I turned a cultural corner. I no longer recognize the celebrities on the cover of magazines at the grocery store checkout stand. I do, however have a 100% accuracy record of recognizing celebrities on the cover of the AARP monthly magazine. This month’s cover features Sheryl Lee Ralph, a Tony and Emmy winning actress and legend who is featured in a beautiful interview by Harriette Cole.


I know Ralph from her musical Dreamgirls and from her 1980s and 1990s television sitcom work, including her role in Designing Women. You probably know her from Abbott Elementary as Barbara Howard, the experienced veteran teacher that everyone goes to when they need help. Mrs. Howard is a teacher leader. She holds no positional authority; yet, she is the one other teachers turn to when they need advice.


Ms. Ralph is also a leader in her field. She talked about how she, as a Black actress in the 1970s and 1980s, had to “bust rocks to create my road.” She recalled how one director questioned her braided hair asking, “can’t you find a more natural hairstyle?” Her response: “More natural for whom?” She talked about how she approached a producer of Designing Women and told him that he needed a Black woman on his show. Thus, the role of Etienne Toussaint Bouvier was created. She also talked about the inspiring Black actresses who came before her and showed her what was possible.


That’s bold leadership.


And we do that in our mathematics education world. We see opportunities to create the best pathways and roads for our teachers and students. Even when we are charting new territory, like carving out data science and statistics pathways in partnership with local institutions of higher education. We question the status quo, asking things like “more appropriate for whom?” When we see a void where student and teacher needs are not being met, we create structures that serve those needs. For example, when we notice that our organization’s leadership or our school’s leadership does not reflect our student population, we create spaces so students and teachers can see themselves in their leaders and envision what is possible for them.


We have an opportunity to gather together in Washington, DC, next month for Math Week. It looks a little different this year since NCSM will actually meet after NCTM but the week remains intact. We will kick off our conference on Saturday night with the wisdom of Lacey Robinson, President and CEO of UnboundEd, spend time in fellowship together on Sunday and Monday, and then wrap up our conference on Halloween Tuesday with an inspiring sendoff from Ken Williams of Unfold the Soul. Learn more about our conference and our speakers on our website, You will find sessions and meet people who will help you sharpen your skills as a bold mathematics education leader.


I’ll look forward to seeing you then! And if you see me there, come up and say hi. If you’re a hugger, so am I. One of the things I learned from our COVID isolation is that when we are together, it’s important to take time for more photographs and more hugs.


Y’all be careful. We’ll touch base again in October!



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