Jean Duty, a revered math teacher who plans to retire this summer after 34 years at Ransom Everglades, has been named the 2019 commencement speaker. Duty, the chair of the mathematics and computer science department, will cap what has been a stellar career by sharing her wisdom and encouragement with the Class of 2019 at RE's 115th commencement on May 24.
Head of School Penny Townsend credited Duty for elevating RE's math and computer science department with her professionalism, her enthusiasm for her subject matter and an uncanny ability to connect with students. Duty started at Ransom Everglades in 1984-85 a few years after earning her bachelor's degree in math at Barry University.
"Year after year, Jean has brought a passion for her craft that is contagious and inspiring," Townsend said. "Her students adore her, colleagues hold her in the highest regard and everyone who interacts with her experiences her warmth. She is a teacher who has made a significant difference in the lives of countless students. I cannot think of a better way to thank her for all she has done for Ransom Everglades than by offering her this special opportunity to address our community."
In her years at RE, Duty has taught math and computer science, won the Arthur Moses Faculty Award, served as an academic dean and taken on the leadership of her department. She and colleague Henry Stavisky '85 co-wrote and revised an Algebra 2 textbook that is used at Ransom Everglades and other schools. Her love for math has been palpable: She gave a TEDx talk on "Beauty, Fractals and Infinity."
Duty has enhanced her knowledge through professional development opportunities including with the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Teachers. She recently worked with Florida International University professor Leonardo Bobadilla on research on Fractals in Robotics. "I got to dive deep into a subject, fractals, that has always fascinated me," Duty explained. She also worked with MatLab software, bringing her knowledge back to the classroom to provide students with the opportunity to incorporate programming into their study of mathematics.
"I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such bright, kind, and capable students," Duty said. "I could not have imagined that I would be afforded so many opportunities to develop as a teacher and as a leader. It seemed that each time I started to grow restless, the leadership at the school asked me to take on a new role. When Penny approached me about being the commencement speaker I was surprised. I could not have imagined a better parting gift. I am honored, nervous, and humbled by this opportunity. I only hope that I can do justice to such a gift."
Duty knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher. Math came easily to her, and she enjoyed the opportunities to stand at the blackboard in front of her peers, explaining concepts that others failed to understand. She found herself frustrated, however, by teachers who underestimated her, or failed to encourage her in math or other realms. As a teacher, she aimed to be a voice of encouragement and inspiration. "I chose teaching, hoping to fix it," she said with a grin in 2017. "So I have an attitude. I felt I had poor teachers that were not very supportive."
It was with that mindset that she arrived at RE. This year she taught Pre-Calculus Honors, AP Calculus 1 and AP Calculus 2 and Multivariable Calculus. She also has served as an advisor to the Upper School Honor Council.
Stavisky recalled that he and Duty decided to create their own Algebra 2 textbook because the one they were using was not sufficiently challenging for students. He called her the "solid pillar for the math department" who would be greatly missed.
"I've told Ms. Duty this several times throughout the years, but I'll repeat it again: She was the best math teacher I ever had," Alejandra de la Cruz '06 said. "Even better than any of my college professors. Ms. Duty had a way of explaining the material that just made sense. She was patient, kind and witty. She pushed us to understand the material but she was always there to lend a helping hand. She made me a better student all around and helped open up my curiosity of learning."
If you would like to share reflections on Jean Duty for the fall 2019 issue of the RE Log magazine, please send them here.
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The mission of Ransom Everglades School is to provide an educational environment in which the pursuit of honor, academic excellence and intellectual growth is complemented by concern for the physical, cultural and character development of each student. The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.