Math teacher and club adviser Darlene Rector has a saying: “When you know the why, you’re more likely to understand the how,” she tells her students.
Rector has been opening the mysteries of mathematics to Billings School District 2 students for nearly three decades. Just last weekend she returned from the MathCounts competition in Washington, D.C., where 56 middle school teams competed for the nation’s top math honors.
The team of four Montana students included eighth-grader Isabella Whitworth from Lewis and Clark Middle School.
“It’s the second time in (Lewis and Clark) history that that’s happened,” Rector said.
Rector has been at Lewis and Clark for the past 13 years, and Isabella is one of her top students. Rector is a staunch believer in exposing students to math early and developing that love as they move through school.
“I try to hook them when they’re young,” she said.
Isabella was one who Rector was able to catch. Ben Morledge-Hampton was another. Ben recently took a high school freshman/sophomore math assessment exam and outscored all the freshmen and sophomores at Senior High.
He and Isabella, along with Malia Gesuale and Patrick Zimmer, were the four students who competed in March at the state MathCounts competition. Isabella was the top scorer on the team and was selected to go to D.C for the national competition.
“Lewis and Clark has had a really good year,” Rector said.
It’s one of the many reasons making it hard for Rector to step away. She retires this summer after 29 years with SD2 and 31 years teaching.
“I’m sad I’m experiencing all these lasts,” she said. “The finality of it is starting to set in.”
However, she’s ready to start something new, she said. She has a daughter who is a sophomore this year, and Rector is eager to be a stay-at-home mom for a couple of years while her daughter finishes high school.
She loves her students at Lewis and Clark, but she’s eager to put her own family first, she said.
“Lewis and Clark loses a very powerful student advocate when she leaves,” Principal Steve Pomroy said.
Pomroy praised Rector’s unmatched enthusiasm and dedication to math instruction and her students, including all her work with the math club and preparing for MathCounts competitions.
“It can’t be replaced,” he said.
Even with her retirement looming, Rector is still an outspoken advocate for math education and hopes to see that continue at the school after she leaves.
For many of her students — some with troubled backgrounds or coming from broken homes — a solid education could change their lives.
“That’s their ticket out of those tough home lives,” she said.