Math teacher Sally Barron, given a chance, will modestly play down her hard work and accomplishments during 15 years of teaching at Lake Highlands High School.

Her colleagues, however, pushed her into the limelight by nominating her for the Teacher of the Year award sponsored by the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands. The nominating criteria sought a teacher who constantly strives for student success; demonstrates a high degree of caring for students; assumes a leadership role with students and faculty; and might be considered the “unsung hero” among the teachers.

“I was overwhelmed,” at being chosen, Barron says.

But looking at her history with LHHS, it’s easy to see why Barron stands out.

For one, Barron worked with another teacher to revive the school’s local chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, a national academic club for math students.

She moved the focus from the traditional emphasis on math team competition to one of showing students how math fits into the real world – for example, by bringing in guest speakers to discuss mathematics-related careers. Club membership requires a high B-average in math and certain required courses; the club now has about 370 students.

Also, Barron discovered a need for math tutoring at Northlake Elementary (where one of her daughters teaches) and arranged for Mu Alpha Theta students to tutor there to earn service hours.

Barron’s current crusade is to help Spanish-speaking students perform better on the math portion of the TAAS test. She believes these students can do the math, but that the language barrier – most of the problems are word problems – keeps them from performing as well as they can. She also recruited several Spanish-speaking students in Mu Alpha Theta to help bolster the students’ language skills.

Barron also helps students just by being there. An hour before school starts, she is in her room. Students often come by during this time to work on math assignments.

“It’s kind of a security blanket for them,” she says. “They might ask on itty-bitty question, but they know I’m there.”

Barron says her most common question from students is why she teaches at LHHS when she lives “so far away.” (Barron lives in Dallas, but her home is within the Plano school district.) Any thoughts of job relocating were quashed early on.

“After being here, I couldn’t think of leaving Lake Highlands,” Barron says. “The sense of community here is something I’m not willing to give up.”

LHHS is lucky to have Barron, says Anne Barab, an RISD trustee who chaired the Teacher of the Year award committee.

As part of her job, Barron – who teaches Algebra II and Geometry – must reach a variety of students, Barab says.

“These are not necessarily the most motivated or super-gifted math students,” Barab says. “But she builds such great rapport. She explains things so clearly and so easily, it gives you a sense of confidence – a feeling that ‘I can do that’.

“She just loves the students. The most successful teachers are those who love their children and convey that to them and the parents.”

Barron says the best part of teaching occurs after her students graduate.

“My favorite part of teaching is when a student comes back and tells how they’re doing,” Barron says.

“Just last week, a student I taught in the eighth grade at St. Thomas Aquinas came up. It’s just so nice.”