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Eminence High School’s Intelligent Classroom software was on the fritz that Friday, so popular high school math teacher Buddy Berry improvised.
He lit birthday candles and stuck them into hamburger buns. Students armed with water pistols attempted, mostly in vain, to put out the flames amidst bursts of laughter. It was harder than it looked and most of the candles still flickered atop soggy bread.
He was teaching a lesson in probabilities.
Berry also has learned a lot about personal probabilities.
“I grew up wanting to be a superhero,” he said. About five or six years ago he became frustrated he hadn’t yet changed the world.
“Then I had a mentality shift,” he said, “and decided to try to change one small world at a time by helping a kid go to college or (gain) confidence.”
It was the end of Berry’s second year of teaching here when he approached the Eminence Board of Education in April to request a year-long leave of absence to accept an invitation to participate in the Highly Skilled Educators Program.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” he said. “I will go to some of the hardest schools in the state to help, but I will represent Eminence.”
Berry was recommended by a professor when he completed his second master’s degree in school administration in 2008.
“My Bellarmine professor thought I’d be a natural fit,” he said. “I thought I’d never leave Eminence.”
Berry said he plans to come back with fresh ideas and tools to utilize in the classroom here. “I’m hoping to gain as much skill and strategies as possible to bring back,” he said.
The Kentucky Department of Education instituted the program in 1990 in an effort to bring outstanding teachers and administrators together with teachers and administrators at schools in crisis. Its Web site said the program provides direct, long-term assistance to schools and cited test scores to back up the program’s efficacy.
It stated overall HSE schools gained twice as much as non-HSE schools and outperformed the rest of the schools in the state.
“We are placed in the lowest-peforming schools,” Berry said, “in an effort to affect the schools systemically.”
The decision was hard to make. “It was terrible,” he said. “I love these kids.”
Berry said the 2008-09 school year was academically one of his most gratifying. Students attained one of the highest gains in mathematics statewide. “They have done things this year I didn’t think could be done,” he said. “I hate that part of it (leaving).”
Berry teaches geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus and calculus.
Berry said he is kind of the odd man out in his family whose legacy is Wehr Constructors.
“I’m the first male in my family in 120 years to not be in construction,” he said, “but, I feel like I’m building kids’ lives.”
Berry credits his civil engineer father, Skip, for his mathematical bent and mother, Joyce for his personality. “My mom is a real people person,” he said.
Both are counted among Berry’s heroes. “Mom, dad, Uncle Ed and Coach Fro,” he said, “have all been teachers and coaches in some form. Fro had a big role in who I am.”
The allegiance to Eminence stems from his own experience. “I owe a lot of what I am to Eminence,” he said.
Eminence students are afforded opportunities that larger systems cannot offer. “You get to try whatever you want here,” he said. “Other places students are lucky to get one extra-curricular activity.”
Berry used the example of his own high school football career. “Fro played me when at other schools I would have had no chance,” he said.
After high school Berry left the area for awhile.
Berry obtained a double Master’s degree in counseling and administration. His education career began at age 22 in Owen County. “I started out as the youngest football coach in Kentucky,” he said.
Next came Jeffersontown High School where Berry was head football coach and math chair. Then it was on to Shelby County High School for two years as a guidance counselor. Finally, Berry returned to Eminence as assistant football coach.
Berry brought with him his wife of eight years, Jessica.
He said he hopes all three of their children, Bryce, Blaze and Brooke will benefit from the same kind of education he received at EIS. “My daughter will be a fifth generation alumnus,” he said, “and where else can a high school math teacher drive his kindergarten daughter to the same school as where he works.”
Berry assured Frommeyer and board members he would return. “Don’t let my classroom get cold,” he said. “I’m not leaving for good. I’m in for the haul.”
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