Kay Tipton is an award-winning mathematics teacher who taught at Vestavia Hills High School, a public high school in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. She had been at the school since its establishment in 1970, and her career there spanned thirty years, until her retirement in 2007.
At Vestavia Hills, Kay taught algebra, trigonometry, her notoriously difficult Advanced Placement-level calculus, and other math courses. She also served as Math Department Chair. In addition to all this, the remarkable educator founded the Vestavia Hills High School Math Team in 1975. Her math teams consistently ranked among the best in the United States in national competitions such as Mu Alpha Theta. Many of her students qualified for the prestigious United States of America Mathematical Olympiad. The math team’s entire senior class of 2005 also qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination, and nearly all of them became National Merit finalists.
Kay’s approach to helping her students understand the sometimes overwhelming subject matter in their math courses was to encourage them to simply focus on the learning. Former student Mingham Ji recalled that Kay was supremely confident of their abilities. He once expressed, “As Mrs. Tipton often reminded us, ‘Just worry about the material, and the grades will take care of themselves.’ Needless to say, she was right. By believing in the best her students had to offer, Mrs. Tipton taught us to expect more from ourselves.”
This amazing educator also demonstrated a high level of commitment to her students outside of the classroom. She would stop and talk with students in the hallway, take them to breakfast before math tournaments, and once she even counseled them after the sudden death of a classmate. “It’s hard for me to believe how much she gave herself to us,” expressed Ji, “but she dedicated herself to teaching solely because of her students and the belief that a solid education would help their talents shine.”
In both 1991 and 1992, Kay was named the winner of the Distinguished High School Mathematics Teaching Edyth May Sliffe Award by the Mathematical Association of America. She is a three-time winner of the White House Commission of Presidential Scholars Distinguished Teacher Award, and a recipient of both the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year Award and Cornell University’s Outstanding High School Educator Award.