Frank Corbo And Lis Comm’s Very Important Lessons

This month, Frank Corbo retires after nearly 5 decades in education. He spent 30 years as a classroom math teacher, 13 as a department chair who taught 2 classes, and the past 6 years as Westport’s full-time grades 6-12 math chair. He has helped put Westport on the world math education map.

At 70 years old, he looks back at his career — and discusses what he’s learned.

First, you have to love the subject you teach. I love math. It is much more than computation and manipulation of symbols. Math is about thinking. Math is a language that gives us an alternate window to view and understand the world. Math can can surprise and delight. It can also be a thing of beauty and elegance, in its ability to generalize and compress big ideas into symbols. One simple differential equation can express an infinity of meaning.

Frank Corbo

Frank Corbo

Second, you have to love your students. You must find something you can genuinely like in each one, no matter how challenging he or she may be. Unless you can connect with your students as human beings, as individuals, and find their strengths, you can never reach them.

After talking about trust — between students and teachers, teachers and department chairs, department chairs and building administrators — Corbo says:

The hierarchical workforce paradigm is different from the commonly accepted one. Teachers are not the workers. Instead they are leaders of the workforce, which is the students. The product is learning. Productivity is measured not by how many hours or classes a teacher teaches. but how much work the kids do. And that depends on how good a leader the teacher is — how well the teacher plans tasks that will lead students to a deeper understanding, and motivate them to complete those tasks.

My job as an administrator is to bring teachers new ideas, ask provocative questions, and push them to think about what they are doing and why. If there is trust, teachers will be open to new ideas, to trying new approaches. I have been fortunate to lead an exceptional group of teachers, arguably the best group of math teachers in the country. They are intelligent, professional, adaptable, good-humored, and passionate in their commitment to kids and to high-quality math education.

Westport is an exceptional district. My years here have been fulfilling, challenging and enjoyable. Thank you all.

Frank Corbo is not the only administrator retiring — not even in his family. His wife, Lis Comm, steps down too, after 44 years in Westport. Her current position is townwide director of secondary education. She says:

Lis Comm

Lis Comm

First, I love my subject area: English. Teaching students to read the word is really teaching them to read the world and to read themselves. And teaching students to write is really teaching them to think about their place in the world, to solve real world problems, and to find out who they are.

Reading and talking about literature, poetry, and non-fiction, in a classroom together, is an extraordinary opportunity to get to know the best that has been thought and written through the ages, to get to know yourself and others. I am proud to say I was a full-time English teacher for 25 years.

Second, I would go into education again because of teachers in Westport. I saw amazing teaching in every classroom. Really good teachers are my heroes. I think William Ayers got it right when he described the work of a teacher as “exhausting, complex, idiosyncratic, never twice the same—… at its heart, an intellectual and ethical enterprise…. Teaching begins in challenge and is never far from mystery.” Who would not fall in love with a job description like that?

Working with young people has kept me young in spirit and forced me to at least try to keep up with a fast changing world. The great educator Elliott Eisner said that students ensure our immortality. Our lives as teachers live on in theirs.  That is quite a remarkable thought!

9 responses to “Frank Corbo And Lis Comm’s Very Important Lessons

  1. Don Willmott

    …and not just a math teacher. I wonder if Mr. Corbo remembers that in 1975 he was deployed as my 6th grade science teacher. It was a fun class!

  2. Dorrie Thomas

    Oh, what a wonderful 06880 to be greeted with this morning. Thank you, Dan!
    Mr. Corbo (“Corby” as I affectionately called him privately) was a favorite of mine. He connected with me–one memorable time in particular–with the occasional 60’s song title reference. It was the 80’s and I was (am) a big Beatles fan, so it seemed I was alone among the kids in getting his references. I enjoyed sharing a little smile & nod across the room at our shared understanding.
    His enthusiasm for math was evident and to be present to that joy makes a difference in the classroom. I love math, too, so his class was one I really looked forward to.
    To see his smiling face in that current photo just made my day! Hope you have a happy retirement, dear Corby!

  3. Joyce Bottone

    All the best to both of them. I was one of the lucky ones to have had them both as teachers, while at Staples, far too long ago. Though I wasn’t strong in math, I know that with Mr. Corbo and Mr. Pepe teachings I was able to thrive in college accounting and physics. And, to this day I contribute my love of journaling to Mrs. Com and all the great teachers I was fortunate to have. I hope that they both enjoy this new chapter in their lives, and may they both continue to stay healthy and share what they love.

  4. Lis and Frank: I hope you have many more adventures and lots of travel ahead. Thanks for your years of good work for Westport. Fran

  5. Karol Brumit

    Thank you and well done! We celebrate your service and are thankful we (parents, students and community) were the benefactors of your success!
    God Bless and may you have peaceful and fun days ahead!

  6. Judy Luster

    Bravo to you both. You’ve made a grand difference. When’s the exotic cruise/trip?

  7. D. Pettee – Staples ’81

    I received a few good grades from Liz Comm on literature tests and book reports for Great Expectations, In Cold Blood and Tow Sawyer. Literature lesson #1, compare Dickens’ to Twain.

    However, my book of choice, Jim Morrison and The Doors, was not literature, did not receive a grade, and was returned with red ink .

    On behalf of Staples ’81, thank you both for 75 years of combined student education in Westport Schools.
    Fort Lauderdale, FL.

  8. Ann Didelot

    As a Staples math teacher, I must write how it has been an honor and a blessing to work with Frank Corbo. I dream big but even I could have never dreamed of a mentor/ boss with his wisdom, kindness, and gracious spirit. As a student of education, Frank has been my perfect teacher. He is a visionary who has changed Westport schools and exhibits the ability to change the American school system. Frank will be greatly missed but never far from my mind as his lessons, strategies, and advice will always be in my thoughts as I approach students, curriculum, and parents. For Frank, I will always strive to be the best teacher I can be.

    To LIs- your eloquence, style and role as a woman in education is to be greatly admired.

    I wish you both all the best in retirement. I am confident you will live life to the fullest. I look forward to hearing your stories and living vicariously through your travels.

    With so much love and respect,
    Ann

  9. Douglass Davidoff

    Lis Comm was just starting out in teaching when I was at Staples, 1972-75. Young, but already an exciting and inspiring presence. She is in the pantheon of “Staples Teachers Who Influenced Me Even Though I Was Never In Their Class:” Lis Comm. Frank Weiner. Karen Hurley. Gerry Kuroglian. Peter Bennett. How fortunate to have been in a school where the likes of these gifted educators amounted to the “bench” for my personal journey through high school instruction and formation. Thanks, Miss Comm!