Paul Sally, first director of UCSMP, dies at age 80.

January 13, 2014

Paul Sally, Jr., professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the University of Chicago Mathematics Department and a legend as a teacher, died unexpectedly on December 30, 2013.

Paul majored in mathematics at Boston College and began his career as a high school mathematics teacher at the Boston College High School. In 1965, he received his PhD from Brandeis and came to the University of Chicago. Within two years he received a Quantrell award for distinguished undergraduate teaching. He continued to be known for his teaching throughout his career at Chicago.

Paul’s mathematical research was in the area of harmonic analysis but to those of us in mathematics education he was known for his substantial work with teachers and students. From 1983-87, he was the overall director of UCSMP. During that time, he co-directed (with Sheila Sconiers) the UCSMP program to train specialist mathematics teachers in grades 4–6. This program involved a dozen school districts across the nation interested in having their elementary school students taught mathematics by teachers whose main job was to teach mathematics. This program was innovative for its time and would still be considered innovative today.

In 1988, influenced by a program Arnold Ross had begun at Ohio State University, Paul began the Young Scholars Program (YSP), a summer program for students in grades 7–12 from the Chicago area who are particularly interested in mathematics.

Throughout his career, Paul had a particular interest in the mathematics education of inner city youth. In 1992, Paul initiated his Seminars for Elementary Specialists and Mathematics Educators (SESAME) program for Chicago area teachers to earn a middle grades mathematics endorsement. In 2005, he began work with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), University of Illinois - Chicago, and DePaul University to create a program that enables CPS 8th grade teachers to take courses at any one of these institutions to become certified to teach algebra in CPS elementary schools. These initiatives have helped thousands of CPS students take algebra in 8th grade who in previous years would never would have had the opportunity and strengthened the mathematics education of many thousands of others.

Paul was diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager and lost sight in one eye in 1975. In his later years, he lost both legs and almost all the sight in his other eye, but he never stopped teaching. He would dictate the mathematics to be written on a board for his classes and an assistant would write it.

In March 2012, Paul received the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Distinguished Life Achievement in Mathematics Award. This award is given to an Illinois mathematics educator who has retired or is near retirement. Paul received the award even though he had made it clear that he would never retire. And so it came to be. At the time of his death, he was planning the classes that would begin the next week.

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