At the end of the school year, Andy Lipps will retire after 23 years at GDS. Lipps said the decision to retire was made easy by the birth of his granddaughter in September. “She’s wonderful,” he said. “I want to be able to spend more time with her.”
Lipps is a unique teacher at GDS because he has taught in three different departments: math, history and world languages. Outside of teaching, Lipps coached the math team for 15 years and accompanied students (along with history teacher Richard Avidon and science teacher C.A. Pilling) to Harvard Model Congress, which is held in Boston every year.
In December of 1997, Lipps was working as a trial lawyer and experienced a mild heart attack. His doctor told him to lower his stress levels, so he decided to go to graduate school to get a master’s degree in math. During his second year of graduate school, he received a call from a friend who had a son in high school at GDS. His son’s math teacher was going on paternity leave in less than two months and they didn’t have a replacement yet. Could Lipps step in? “That’s how I got hired. There was nobody else available,” he said. “That’s the only reason to hire a 49-year-old guy with no teaching experience.”
Along with teaching in the math department, Lipps developed the now-annual civil rights trip and created a civil rights history course, which was called “Freedom Rides to Ferguson” and has since been changed to “Freedom Rides to Floyd.” Lipps got the idea to start the course after taking seven GDS students to the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March with then–first grade teacher Paula Young Shelton, which he called a “remarkable” experience. They started the course in 2017, and this year Lipps taught it with Associate Director of College Counseling Darius Pardner. Lipps also continued to take students to Selma and this year marked his seventh and eighth trips.
“I’m probably more proud of that than anything else that I’ve done over the 23 years at GDS,” Lipps said.
Senior Lauren Petrilla knew of Lipps before she started taking his class. Petrilla said classmates had told her that he was an “amazing” teacher. She’s in his Freedom Rides to Floyd class, which she described as “one of the best history classes I’ve had at GDS.” Petrilla said she thought her civil rights education was “lacking” before taking the class. Even though the movement had been discussed in her classes, she had never gone in depth.
“It’s just so pertinent. It gave context to what’s happening today,” she said. “We even talked about police brutality and what we need to see happen in the future to stop that.”
In interviews with Lipps’ current and past students, many of them brought up Lipps’ ability to get students excited about whatever topic they were studying. Hannah Natanson ’15 described his teaching as “infectious, in the best possible sense.”
She had him as a math teacher for multiple years and said she believes he is “the only teacher in the world” who could have made her enjoy math. “You can tell that he loves what he’s talking about,” she said. “It spills over in everything he does.”
Natanson added that Lipps got particularly excited when discussing math history. She rattled off different facts about the tripos exam at the University of Cambridge (the person with the worst score has to carry around a massive wooden spoon), Srinivasa Ramanujan’s lost notebook and the French mathematician Évariste Galois, who died in a duel. “I’ve been out of high school for a long time. I couldn’t give you those kinds of details for almost any other class,” she said. “I remember them because I remember how much Andy cared about them.”
Math Department Chair Lee Goldman echoed Natanson’s sentiments. Goldman talked about how the development of the civil rights course and trips all grew out of Lipps’ “passion for civil rights and his desire to share that passion with students and make them passionate about it too.”
She added that Lipps had a crucial role in the development of math courses, specifically the upper-level ones like linear algebra and math seminar. “His input into decisions we make as a department is invaluable,” she said.
Besides his help in the math department, Goldman said Lipps has had a huge impact on the students. “I think there are students who leave here who are excited about math because of Andy,” she said. “I think there are students who leave here feeling seen.”
For Noah Kravitz ’16, Lipps’ class made him realize that he loved math. “I’d always liked math, but I never thought that I liked it more than any other subject,” he said. “Andy’s class was the first one where I was like, ‘Huh, maybe I’d like to do this more.’” Kravitz is now pursuing a doctoral degree in math.
Kravitz added that he views Lipps as “a role model for doing lots of different things.” He described one semester years ago when Lipps was teaching a math class, a Latin class, his civil rights class and constitutional law. “There aren’t many people who can do all those different things,” he said. “And well.”
Avidon also noted Lipps’ unique ability to teach so many different subject areas. “Though he is first and foremost a math teacher (and scholar), he has taught in many departments, including History and Foreign Languages,” Avidon wrote in an email. He added that Lipps has been “part of the true soul of GDS” and “leaves unfillable shoes.”
In his senior year, Matt Simonson ’04 had Lipps as his calculus teacher. Simonson said he knew it was going to be a great year after the first day of class when Lipps delivered a “mind-blowing” lecture on different sizes of infinity. Throughout the year, Simonson discovered Lipps’ teaching style of “delightful curiosity and eagerness both on his part and what he brings out in his students.” Simonson added, “If you have any speck of curiosity left in you about math, he will rekindle that fire.”
Simonson was a teacher for seven years and said he imitated Lipps’ style in a few ways. He incorporated bits of math history into his high school math courses and had his students do math history presentations. “Andy’s famous for having students write a calculus carol for Christmas, so I had my students write a math poem for national poetry month in April,” he said. “Those are a few things that are direct Andy touches.”
When Simonson finished his doctoral degree during the pandemic, Lipps came to his dissertation defense on Zoom. Simonson said he was touched that a teacher who had such a big impact on him took the time to come to such an important moment in his life. “When you sign up for Andy, you have the opportunity to be his student for life.”
Lipps said the thing he’ll miss most is working with students everyday. “I’ll miss the joy of watching students get excited when they learn something and understand something,” he said.
He added, “I couldn’t imagine when I left the practice of law in 1998 what enormous satisfaction I would get out of teaching for 23 years. Couldn’t possibly imagine it.”