NORMAN — Frank Wang’s pocket-protector and bow-tie stand out among a civic club audience this week. He didn’t have tape on his glasses and wasn’t wearing tennis shoes because he can’t tie them. (He has a doctorate in mathematics but still has trouble with laces).
“I am a genuine, bona-fide nerd,” the Norman High School graduate told the audience.
As a teenager, he helped maverick math teacher John Saxon birth and grow Saxon Publishing Co. from a self-published math textbook to a publishing and software company with 250 employees and nearly $100 million in sales
The Norman company was sold and moved to Texas a few years back. Wang had earlier left the company to pursue his passion for teaching, often for free. (He also manufactured pocket protectors that said “I love nerds” and “Geek is chic.”)
The former chairman of Saxon Publishers of Norman has recently returned to Oklahoma, this time as head of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in Oklahoma City.
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The school at Northeast 10th and Lincoln in Oklahoma City is a two-year program. Any Oklahoma student can apply during their sophomore year. Many Norman students have been part of the student body.
It draws the state’s best and brightest away from their communities and brings them together near the state’s Capitol. It’s no surprise that OSSM routinely leads the state in National Merit Scholars.
Tuition is free, as is room and board. Last year, the legislature appropriated $6.2 million, down from previous years. Wang’s job as the school’s president is to raise the school’s profile and performance.
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He wasn’t always headmaster material. As a child, his development was slow. His academic achievement was weak. Teachers wanted him tossed out of the private school he attended in New York. They had neurological tests done to prove the point. His parents resisted.
“I was an extremely marginal student. I was very afraid of school,” he said.
He avoided school, even to the point of warming his forehead on an oven to convince his mother he had a fever.
He stayed and applied for a special algebra class, memorizing the standard test questions and answers. Teachers took note of his ability, albeit it was a ruse.
“Overnight, I was treated differently. Before that, I was largely overlooked. I wanted so desperately to achieve something,” Wang said.
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He went on to receive a math degree from Princeton and a doctorate in pure math from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has a passion for teaching teachers.
Wang tells his own story about his early diagnosis as a slow learner.
“Remember, every student has untapped potential,” he said. “Expanded expectations often bring it out.”
He turned down the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics job a year earlier. The board pursued him a second time and he began his duties there in August.
“Education is not the most lucrative field,” he joked. “This is the lowest-paying full-time job I’ve ever had, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to work with very bright, young people.”