Wylie Junior High has been absolutely dominant in state math competitions over the last decade, winning state championships the last three years in a row and state runner up for at least four consecutive years before that.
Wylie’s program has become literally the best in the state because of one person – Carol Stringfellow.
The former Wylie math teacher will be inducted into the Wylie Hall of Honor in October for creating and developing Wylie’s investigative math program. It is impossible to overstate how important she has been to that program.
“She was the program,” says Wylie Superintendent Joey Light. “It was her baby. She conceived the idea, and by the time she was through, they were basically winning state all the time. Talk about building something from the ground up.”
Math Teacher Extraordinaire
Stringfellow grew up in Pennsylvania and Orlando and got her bachelor’s degree from Florida State and her master’s from Georgetown College.
“I knew I wanted to teach math probably from Junior High on,” she said. “I’m not very creative, and math, it’s just step by step. You just follow the steps and you get the answer.”
She said she was not a straight “A” student in math, a fact that always surprised her investigative math students but probably made her a better teacher.
“I could help kids understand,” she said. “They knew that I cared and that I wanted them to understand. That was one of my strengths.”
Her husband Marvin was a coach and brought his family to Abilene to coach at Hardin-Simmons University. They moved into the Wylie district, and in 1990, Mrs. Stringfellow got a job at Wylie Junior High teaching math.
She began coaching the kids in UIL competitions but was frustrated by the lack of success.
“It’s so hard to find time to work with students when you are competing against other activities,” she said. “I had heard of other schools that had a class.”
So she went to Joey Light, who was Wylie Junior High principal at the time, and asked if they could offer an investigative math class.
“She’s a competitive person,” Light said. “She wanted to do what all the folks that were being successful were doing.”
So permission was granted, and Wylie began offering investigative math as an elective and competing in the Texas Math and Science Coaches Association competitions. For years, Stringfellow spent her Saturdays taking students to TMSCA meets and then to MathCounts competitions and to the state meets for both groups.
That first year, Stringfellow took 13 kids to the state TMSCA math competition. In her final year with the program, she took 95. Dozens of her students won individual state championships over the years, and hundreds won team state championships.
The school’s success at the state level was incredible.
“It helps that we had the class,” she said. “Wylie has pretty talented students and some awesome families who supported what we did. It really is exciting to coach something academic and have kids come out of a contest with the excitement that they did well.”
Swim Coach, White Boards
Another little known fact that likely would have surprised her more recent math students is that Carol Stringfellow started the Wylie swim team and served as its first coach.
Both of her daughters were swimmers, and Stringfellow mentioned to Wayne Clark, who was on the school board at the time, that Wylie needed a team. He agreed, and the board tabbed her to coach it.
The first year, she had three swimmers, all of whom already had training, she said.
“All I did was take them to the meets,” she said. “We had to swim at that time against Abilene High and Cooper and San Angelo Central. But those three kids did pretty well.”
Within about four years, she had built the program from three kids to more than 20, and it had outgrown her.
“I was starting to do competitive math, and the team had built up to 20-25 kids,” she said. “It got to be more than I could do. I wasn’t really that qualified to be a coach, and I knew it, but I did it for the kids.”
Both of her daughters ended up swimming at college.
Stringfellow also was instrumental in Wylie being on the leading edge of getting white boards in its classrooms.
“I emailed Joey (Light) and said I heard about these and they have them out at Eula, and I wanted to go see them,” she remembers. Light wanted to go as well, and the district sent a group, including Stringfellow, to research the boards. The group came home determined to get them in Wylie classrooms.
“I got to be one of the first ones to get one, and then I helped train other teachers,” Stringfellow said. “Now every classroom has them.”
Light said Stringfellow’s success comes from a constant desire to always be better.
“She is fiercely competitive not in the way you would see in some people,” he said. “She is fairly quiet about it, but she is doggedly determined. A lot of that was a desire to be better. She knew that student engagement was key. She was always trying to be better.”
Stringfellow said she was fortunate to work with an administration that was always willing to listen to her ideas.
“I have appreciated our administration in supporting everything I tried to do,” she said. “It’s phenomenal, and the parents are wonderful. There aren’t many school districts like Wylie.”
Time To Retire
In 2011, Stringfellow went part time at Wylie and managed to turn a part-time job into a full-time job. In 2014, she decided to retire completely, but not before she had expanded the investigative math program to include 6th grade and helped add a robotics program.
Stringfellow has three children, all Wylie graduates: Laura ’94, Christy ’96 and Elliott ’06. She has nine grandchildren, possibly 10 by the time this reaches print. However, her children live in Indonesia, Kansas and Wisconsin.
“My family is so spread out and my dad is still living at 94 in Florida,” she said. “I still loved what I did, but I think I needed to make time for family.”
She also is spending time working with her church, Wylie Baptist, where her family has attended for more than 20 years and where she is on the missions committee. And she hasn’t quite gotten math out of her system. She still serves on the executive board for the state for TMSCA and plans the middle school state meets, which includes about 2,500 kids each year.
In 24 years of teaching at Wylie, Stringfellow taught some of the best and brightest students at Wylie, and she said she was very blessed to have done so.
“The kind of kids I had were pretty awesome,” she said. “It was a pleasure.”