The Perfect Equation

The Perfect Equation

Tim Kanold Superintendent, Adlai E. Stevenson (Ill.) High School District 125

At the age of 14, Tim Kanold knew he wanted to be a math teacher. "It never occurred to me to do anything else," he says.

In his early years as a math teacher in Chicago, Kanold developed math teams and created calculus classes. Merrill Publishing noticed his good work and, in 1983, hired him to write the solutions to an algebra book. Today, Kanold, superintendent of the Adlai E. Stevenson (Ill.) High School District 125, and author of 25 books, still uses math for what he believes is its true purpose: helping students connect dry concepts from a book with real-life problem solving.

Although math and science are left-brain driven, Kanold's right brain works in overdrive, too. He's presented more than 1,000 seminars and discussions about standards of learning and the district's successful professional learning communities.

"It's our responsibility to be leaders in learning in schools. The challenge is asking, 'What are we doing to close the achievement gap?'"

Adlai's longstanding "targets that beckon" include improving test scores, developing better student character and coming up with ways to measure both. "Tim's one shining characteristic is probably his humanity, his feeling for people," says Les Raff, president of Stevenson's school board. "We were a professional learning community before he became superintendent, but he's taken us [from] having it in place to making faculty be a part of it."

Favorite equation: The Barbara Jordan Problem. Published in 1993, Kanold designed it to give kids a real-world model to an Algebra 1 concept. The equation featured data on Barbara Jordan from Texas, the first African-American woman elected to Congress. The missive: Plot a line using data from 1970 to 1992 that would show the number of African-American women elected to Congress by 2000. "To me, it was a kind of algebra a kid would like to learn."

The one-school district: Adlai Stevenson comprises a single high school with an 80-acre, one-million-square-foot footprint. "It's like one giant college campus," says Kanold.

The proof is in the numbers:

3,000: Number of yearly visitors the school receives that are interested in its Professional Learning Communities support programs.

1,300: Students who in 2005 took Advanced Placement exams, more than any other school in the country.

6: Books in which the district has been featured since 2001.

4: Times the district received the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon award, one of only three schools in the country with that record.

Balanced brainiac: Kanold's at his best when talking about big-picture goals and how others can achieve them in their own urban districts. "Team development may be his greatest strength," says Raff. "In terms of national representation, part of our mission statement is to be a lighthouse and leader, locally and nationally. And through Tim, we do that."

Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.