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Meet Terry Kaufman of Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science

Today we'd like to introduce you to Terry Kaufman.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Terry. So, let's start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Burt Kaufman, my father, and two other co-founders of IMACS, Edward Martin and Iain Ferguson, taught from 1983-1993 in a Broward County Public Schools gifted math program for grades 6-12 known as Project MEGSSS. When a statewide budget crisis forced the elimination of that program, MEGSSS parents urged these teachers to find a way to keep teaching the curriculum. I joined with my father and his colleagues to open the first IMACS in July 1993 with just 37 students in Plantation. In the beginning, we offered classes using the mathematical logic and computer science curricula from MEGSSS and added math enrichment classes for elementary age children as well.

IMACS is now entering its 25th year of operation, and in that time, we have added computer enrichment classes, electronics, virtual robotics, online courses (Our AP Computer Science A course is used by Florida Virtual School.), a summer camp, and a homeschool program. We serve over 4,500 students across the US and in more than 15 countries around the world. Locally, we now have four dedicated IMACS teaching centers, and we also are invited to teach on campuses at prestigious private schools such as Pine Crest, American Heritage, and NSU University School.

I attribute IMACS' longevity and growth to parents' concerns about education. Many of our local families, as well as our online students, are actively looking for ways to develop the critical thinking skills needed in a rapidly modernizing world, and they are not finding that through traditional means. So they come to IMACS.

Great, so let's dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you've had to overcome?
In 25 years of business, there have certainly been struggles along the way. The two that come to mind are communicating what we do to parents and finding qualified instructors.

When parents hear that IMACS offers an after-school math program, they tend to assume that we are a tutoring center for kids struggling with math. Actually, IMACS classes are for above average to profoundly gifted students who are usually getting good grades and need more challenging work than school can offer. A lot of parents don't realize that there is a danger to letting smart kids coast through school with no effort – they arrive at college totally unprepared for dealing with truly challenging coursework. If a child is getting straight A's, it's understandable that a parent would think there's no problem. Unfortunately, the problems surface down the road when the stakes are much higher. We try to help parents understand this, but it's not easy.

The other big challenge is finding enough qualified instructors. IMACS is very selective because the academic level of the students we serve demands it. Our instructors must have a solid intuitive understanding of mathematics, and must also be skilled at teaching advanced concepts to talented, young children. Candidates strong enough to pass the initial phase then train approximately 200 hours before they get to run an IMACS class entirely on their own. So with that big of an investment in our people, we try hard to make sure we accept only the very best for the job. Once we find them, our instructors tend to stay a long time because it's such a pleasure to teach kids who love learning. But finding them first is always a challenge.

Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
For students in grades 1-12, IMACS offers after-school, weekend, homeschool and online classes, as well as a Hi-Tech Summer Camp. Our teaching philosophy centers around helping children to develop strong logical reasoning and creative thinking skills needed to solve complex problems.

Working solo and in teams, IMACS students learn how to think logically and creatively while having fun with games, puzzles, stories, and other engaging activities. Every participant is motivated to come up with his or her own solutions, yet IMACS also encourages collaboration among children with similar interests, creating a sense of belonging, as well as accomplishment.

IMACS is not a tutoring service. Our classes are designed for bright students who need a challenge commensurate with their abilities and for those with untapped academic skills. The academic advantages that our students gain is based on a genuine understanding of the concepts, not on rote memorization and repetitive drilling.

IMACS is unique in that our students are grouped by ability, not by age or grade level. Prospective students and their parents first attend a free, one-hour placement class where a senior instructor will evaluate each child's current abilities. Students then move up as they demonstrate mastery. This means that at IMACS a child will never be held back from reaching his or her potential.

Another important difference at IMACS is that all of our curricula are developed by a long-standing team of mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, and programmers who draw on an average of over 25 years' experience teaching gifted and talented students.

Rather than just accelerating the pace of standard material, IMACS designs curricula specifically for children who thrive on deeper intellectual stimulation.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Our proudest moments over the past 25 years usually involve receiving an email or phone call from former students thanking us for preparing them so well for college and beyond.

We have documented the accomplishments of a handful of IMACS graduates at www.imacs.org/success-stories.

We are also extremely proud and excited that over the next year, IMACS will complete the final courses of Elements of Mathematics: Foundations (EMF), which is our online math program designed for talented students in grades 6-8. EMF covers all of pre-algebra through precalculus, plus several university-level topics. For the third year running, Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) selected EMF as full-time curriculum for its top middle school math students. The amazing thing about the Broward program is that the students are not being taught by a classroom teacher. EMF is a self-study program; the kids who just finished 7th grade taught themselves college-level abstract algebra using EMF, and they're only about 12 years old!

Our goal now is to get more districts across the US to adopt EMF for their mathematically talented middle school students. Not much has changed since my father's days in the way of limited budget allocations to gifted programs. We believe that EMF's self-study, online structure makes it a very affordable and scalable choice for districts of all sizes. Broward is the 6th largest district in the nation, so if EMF can work well for Broward, we believe it will work well for other districts too.