Long-time district math specialist Robert (Bob) Krech assumed the position of supervisor of math curriculum, K-5, for the WW-P school district at the start of the academic year. But Krech, who is not just “the math guy,” but is an artist and author too, is leaving the district at the end of the year to pursue writing full-time.
“I was approached by Corwin Press, which is a big publisher of educational books, to write a three-part math series of books. This is a huge project, and not something that I could accomplish as a part-time author. Although I hadn’t been considering retiring at the end of this year, I was considering retiring in the next few years, and this kind of opportunity kind of made the decision for me,” says Krech.
“The purpose behind this book project is to take the recently developed national math standards and put them in a series of books, but to write them in such a way that they are easily understood by teachers, parents, and students,” says Krech. “I am ‘translating’ the math into English if you will, plus developing activities and hands-on problems for the texts as well. I will be the primary author for the math K-5 series.”
“And my first book is due to the publisher in August, so I am on a tight time-frame. I will be spending my summer writing! That’s why Io decided to retire from the district as of June 30.” The first book is expected to be released in the spring of 2015.
But Krech feels comfortable that he is leaving the district in good hands, math-wise. Last summer, along with fellow K-5 math supervisor Susan Totaro (see story, page 15), Krech worked on revising the math curriculum to align it to the common core national standards. They have continued to refine it, and Krech is satisfied that the updated math curriculum is completely aligned to the national standards.
Their mission last summer, says Krech, “was to see if there was anything we could take out because we felt like we were trying to do too much at any given grade level. It makes more sense to have a more focused math curriculum, grade-by-grade, so we spent the summer fine-tuning our math curriculum with that in mind. We also ensured that the revised math curriculum will prepare the students for the assessment changes that the state is expected to implement through the new online PARCC assessments.”
“Susan and I were also cognizant of the need to cross-integrate with the other disciplines. At the elementary school level, this is somewhat easier because elementary school teachers teach all subjects. Of course there is already a close integration between math and science, but we worked with the teachers to better integrate language arts and math as well. The same with social studies: data representations, graphs, demographics — that is all math. We want to make sure the students realize the interrelation between the two subjects so they can see how math can be used in other subjects interesting ways. That is always my ultimate goal,” he says. “It was a very big project, one that I feel very good about having completed for the district.”
Krech started in the district in 1989 as a fourth grade teacher. “Then I became a first grade teacher, then a second grade teacher, and then I became the elementary school math supervisor. One year I was the ‘elementary-level math supervisor,’ and for 13 years I have been the elementary-level math ‘specialist.’ I am now once again in the same position I held previously, the elementary level math supervisor. The difference is, as a ‘specialist,’ I was doing demonstrations, helping out teams of teachers, working on lesson plans, and that type of thing. Now I am doing teacher observations as well, which I didn’t have to do as a specialist.”
Krech took a circuitous route to his current position, including studying art and teaching abroad for several years. He majored in art at Rutgers, where an advisor suggested he also study education. “During my sophomore year, my advisor suggested that I take education classes as well, so that I could do art and eat at the same time,” Krech says. “So I earned certificates in art and elementary school education as well as a degree in art. During this time, as part of my field placement, I worked with kids, and found that I really enjoyed teaching them. So I decided to go into education.”
Krech’s first teaching job was in the Burlington school district, where he taught kindergarten through third grade, as well as art classes. He and his wife, Karen, then spent three years teaching at the American school in Aberdeen, Scotland; and another three years teaching at the American school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“My wife and I wanted to travel, so we decided to take advantage of these overseas opportunities. We loved Scotland, but after three years, we wanted to dry out, because it rains a lot there. So we headed to Saudi Arabia. I had taught first grade in Scotland, and, in Saudi Arabia, I was the assistant principal in the K-2 school building, which housed 1,800 students, which was a phenomenal experience.
“Working overseas gave me perspective into languages, cultures, education systems. In Scotland, all of our students were American, but many were from the ‘drilling states,’ and they had a very different outlook than the students from the northeast. In Saudi Arabia only 50 percent of the students were from the United States. The rest were from Canada and other parts of the world. There was only one Saudi family, the ambassador’s family, who wanted to have continuity in the children’s educational training.
Krech and his wife returned to the U.S. in 1989 to start a family. “I was offered my job here at the WW-P district, and my wife began teaching here as well. She teaches ESL at Dutch Neck Elementary School. Our son Andrew was born a year later, and we have been here ever since.”
So how does an art teacher end up becoming a math specialist? “I believe there is a relationship between art and math, just as there is a connection between math and music,” Krech says.
“In my first year of teaching as an elementary school teacher, I started teaching math the way I had been taught, with an emphasis on rote memorization, and I started to get bored. I wanted to make it more interesting. So I went to teaching seminars to learn how to make math more interesting. And I went to a seminar hosted by Educational testing Services (ETS) for second graders at Dutch Neck, and they showed us math projects that were creative and interactive, which were designed to take four or five days. And they were so interesting that I realized this is how I wanted to teach. So I started working with ETS as well. I created five such projects of my own that year for ETS, and attended conferences and training sessions for teachers. I became known as the ‘math guy.’”
In 1997 Krech published his first book, “Special Delivery,” which is a unique type of math book. Each of the “problems” is written in the form of a series of letters from a fictitious person, such as aliens from another planet. The students use math to solve the problems contained in the letters, which helps them to see that math is not just abstract, but that math can be used to solve real problems.
Krech now has written or co-written approximately 25 books, many through Scholastic books, most of which are math-related. One of his recent publications has been a “math-libs” series for Scholastic. “Once you are done with the answers, you have a crazy math problem. This series is fun and interesting and can also be challenging for kids,” he says.
It was Krech’s connection with Scholastic that led to his new project with Corwin Press. “One of the editors I had worked with at Scholastic moved over to Corwin, and when this project came up, she tapped me for the project. The head of Corwin Press also recognized my name and my work, and so they made me the offer.”
In addition to writing with Scholastic, Krech has worked with WNET-13, the public television channel. “I have been doing some freelance stuff; working on Sundays and whenever I have the time. Channel 13 introduced me to cyberspace, and gave me their activities. I learn about the show and how to use their activities in our classrooms. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Krech made the switch from teacher to specialist in 1999. “When I was studying at Rutgers, I saw more and more kids have difficulties with learning math; whereas I was learning more and more things that I could share with teachers to make math more understandable for the students,” he explains. “As a curriculum specialist, I would have more of an opportunity to help train teachers, so really would be helping even more students. So when the specialist job opened up, I decided to apply for it. I would be benefiting students and would still be teaching, just not in a traditional classroom. I do miss the one-on-one interaction with students, but I still do get letters from former students occasionally thanking me for helping them, or telling me how they are doing, which is really nice.”
In addition to developing creative math techniques for teachers and students, Krech tries to devote a little of his free time to work on his art, mainly cartooning, at this point. “My main focus in college was sculpture, but I still do some drawing. If a friend is getting married or celebrating a big event, I might do a drawing for him or her. It is fun for me to see my son Andrew getting into the art world through photography. He is very technical and is using that skill in art. Of course, when he is talking about the lens focus, or camera angles, he thinks he is talking about photography but it is really math.”
Krech lives with his wife in Lawrence Township, where he grew up. Son Andrew graduated from Elon University in North Carolina and now works as a photographer in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and daughter Faith is in her junior year at Gilford College in North Carolina, studying writing and religion. Krech’s father was a captain in the New Jersey State Police, and taught many courses throughout the state during his career, such as disaster control and civil defense. Krech’s mother was a stay-at-home mom when the children were younger, and then worked for 20 years as an instructional assistant for students with Down’s syndrome at a Catholic school.
He credits his own sixth grade teacher, Margaret Strucker, with getting him in the door in the WW-P district. “When we decided to look for a job back in New Jersey, I called Margaret, who was by then the head of personnel for the Lawrence Township school district. She mentioned WW-P as an up-and-coming school district and thought I should apply here.”
Krech is excited about his new opportunity with Corwin Press, although he is sorry to be leaving the district. “I enjoyed my new position, and in particular in being able to work so closely with the new administration,” he says. “They really help us [supervisors] to keep our focus on teaching and learning, and I have been very appreciative of their support.”
As one of the district supervisors, Krech was has been conducting the observations for all elementary-level tenured teachers. Each teacher has three observations: two primary and one secondary. Throughout the academic year, Krech has been handling 22 primary observations, which includes teachers’ first and third observations.
Krech says that, in light of the increased evaluations, one of the challenges of the supervisor’s position has been “to hold onto my ability to be a resource to the teachers, and to retain some of my role as an instructional leader, as well being a teacher ‘coach.’ I did do teacher observations 13 years ago, but of course a lot has changed since then.”
When asked if he has any advice for district supervisors and teachers, who are also facing new challenges because of the state requirements, Krech says, “I have worked with so many districts, in several different countries, that I feel like I have some perspective. I have seen things that have worked, and districts which do not work so well. We have a highly skilled, superb staff here in WW-P, and they are capable of meeting any challenge. There is always something new, usually from the state, that educators have to adapt to. I always suggest to my teachers that they go spend some time observing another school district; see how they teach, adjust to curriculum changes, and other challenges. Seeing what other districts have — and don’t have — gives you incredible perspective, and helps remind us how lucky we are to have the resources we have in WW-P.”
“I will really miss all of the teachers, staff, kids, and parents I have met and worked with throughout the years, and I want to thank everyone for their help and support. But it is nice to move onto a new project, and new opportunities, and have the time to devote to them. I am looking forward to writing this book series, and to continue to be involved with my other projects, such as working with public television. And I hope to spend some more time working on my art and writing fiction, too,” he added. “This new position will give me the time to make all of that possible.”