The new Merrimack Valley High School superintendent does things his way 


Monitor columnist

Published: 07-05-2023 9:31 AM

Randy Wormald emerged from the right side of the classroom television screen dressed in a sleeveless toga, his thick black hair and beard covering all but his eyes.

He wore a wreath of leaves surrounding his head, and he was anxious to impart his wisdom concerning a particular theorem that had recently gotten him excited.

On that day 18 years ago, Wormald was Pythagoras, passing his genius in math to his students in a way that, he believed, would make math easier to understand and remember.

He was teaching math at Belmont High then, making it fun, inserting his own lyrics to help young minds remember.

Think rap: “It’s a PYT, an HAG, an O with an RAS; now I’m going for the un-forgettable name, of the man they call Pythagoras.”

Meet Merrimack Valley High’s new superintendent. His education says he’s Dr. Wormald. His students call him Dr. Worm. And the two women working down the hall from Wormald’s office, in the little bunker-like building across the way from MVHS, say he’s a natural leader who connect with the people around him – both students and staff.

Wormald spoke for an hour, sitting with his hands clasped at a table in his office. He wore a white, open-collared, buttoned-down and charcoal-gray jacket. No tie. The word “chill” came to mind.

He told Rebecca Butt and Katie Keyser, the women down the hall, that they were free to talk openly about their new boss. “Call me whatever you want,” Wormald instructed.

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They laughed. “Everyone loves him,” said Keyser, the executive assistant to the superintendent. “He’s not a suit and tie in his office. You’ll see him in the lunch room.”

Wormald is an out-of-the-box sort of guy whose hair drapes to his collarbone and who rode a Harley-Davidson in his wilder years.

He sat in his office that included a giant replica of the Boston Red Sox’ 2004 World Series ring, bigger than a golf ball, and books on a jam-packed shelf, like “Crisis in the Classroom” and “Match Wits with Mensa.”

His method of teaching math – having his students move their arms like a baton-waving worker on a tarmac – is his and his alone.

Wormald said that outgoing superintendent Mark MacLean prepared him well him for the job, without Wormald knowing that his boss wanted him to take over.

“I still say when I get up that I am going to school,” Wormald said. “I still think I could have an impact now, teaching and learning and encouraging people who are doing something innovative.”

The school board loved the pioneer. Wormald was a unanimous choice, his unique brand of connecting with students standing out.

“An innovative and creative guy,” said Seelye Longnecker, chair of the school board. “I love that he thinks outside the box. We’re very lucky to have him, and we’re thrilled that he took the job.”

Wormald knew that he wanted to teach as far back as fifth grade. He said his teacher then, Mrs. Miller, inspired him enough to pursue teaching and stick with it.

“I knew that was the job for me,” Wormald said. “Have fun with kids all day.”

While some teachers may have believed that Wormald’s utopian description of classrooms was better suited for a bouncy house, Wormald used physical movement throughout his teaching career, creating an outlet to burn grade-school energy and avoid physical confrontations with high-octane students.

“It’s part of having the class active and moving and doing things,” Wormald said, “If you are talking to kids for 90 minutes and you have someone sitting in front of you for that long, that might not work as well.”

He taught science and math for more than 30 years, mostly at Belmont High and MV. He’s been the school’s assistant superintendent the past six years.

He’s been called Dr. Worm for most of that time, earning his doctorate at Northeastern University. He’s 57, done it all, seen it all and proven himself over and over again. He’s won more awards than Jack Nicholson. Disney said he was the best teacher in the country in 2005.

“It’s all been part of the journey,” Wormald said. “Every place I was at, I was there for the kids, to bring my own flavor, and sometimes that is outside of the norm.”

He drifted further from the norm and closer to the offbeat when he earned a spot on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in 2005. Belmont High students readied themselves, waiting for a big score from Dr. Worm.

Wormald had earned $16,000, then missed a question and ended up with $1,000.

“We just talked about it the other day,” Wormald said. “I misused my lifelines. I used the audience for a question that I already knew the answer to.”

That was the year Wormald finished first nationwide in the Disney-sponsored competition. The video shows a math legend, a rapper, trying to ensure that at least some information sticks with students.

These days, Worm is known for riding a homemade electric motorcycle built by students and inspired by the doctor himself.

“I thought when I retire,” Wormald said, “I want to ride my Harley down the hallways of the school, and a student said, ‘If we can build an electric motorcycle, you could drive right down the hallway now. No emissions.’ So we built it.”

That’s what he does. That’s why he’s popular. He builds things.

His sister-in-law drew a worm with pens and pencils tucked in the front pocket of his white coat. A second was drawn and hung on his office wall. It worked well, the perfect symbol or logo for the man the students always call Dr. Worm.

Except for one day 18 years ago, when a math legend and his toga brought geometry alive in the form of Pythagoras.

“I recall me in a toga,” Wormald said. “I remember the lyrics of the rap song, trying to get them to understand. If they called me Dr. Worm, I just didn’t answer.”