WHEN SAM Brown walked into Baltimore Polytechnic Institute that September day in 1967, it all seemed quite appropriate.
Brown, who had wanted to be a math teacher since he was in junior high school, was starting his first teaching job. Poly was in its first year at a new location, having moved to its current Falls Road site from the school's decades-long digs at North Avenue and Calvert Street.
FOR THE RECORD - A column by Gregory Kane in Monday's editions misstated the reason Sam Brown was arrested while attending Morgan State University. He was arrested while trying to integrate a theater near the school.The Sun regets the error.
Brown has been at the same place ever since. For the past 38 years, he has taught math, acted as adviser to clubs, served as chairman of the math department, been a vice principal, been instrumental in getting the school's first black principal hired and developed the calculus course every Poly student must take before he or she graduates.
But when the school year ends next month, Brown will call it quits. He's retiring to spend time with his family and do community work with his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.
Over the years, Brown has seen Poly transformed from a student body that was 97 percent white when he started to one that is 70 percent black. The school that used to be only for boys now has a near 50-50 gender split.
There's only one thing that hasn't changed: Poly is still one of the top schools in the state. According to the school's Web site, the average SAT score for the Class of 2004 was above both the state and national averages. Poly outscored every high school in Maryland in three of four subjects on a practice round of the high school assessments. Credit for these achievements should be spread around among Poly's faculty, administration, parents and students. But Brown should get his fair share of it.
And this is a guy who, back in 1967, wasn't even sure he could cut it at Poly.
When Brown applied to teach in Baltimore's public schools, the supervisor who hired him said he was going to start at the prestigious math and science high school.
"I told him I'd rather start at a junior high school and work my way up to Poly," Brown recalled. But the supervisor told Brown to try Poly first.
It was rough going for Brown the first two years. Although he had graduated from then-Morgan State College in 1967 with a degree in math, he had never taken a student-teaching course. Classroom management skills didn't come easy to him. Some faculty members, Brown remembered, were helpful. A few, he said, were less than helpful.
"But the second semester of the school year that ended in 1969," Brown said, "everything just clicked for me - relating to the kids, classroom management." He had mastered what he termed the "delicate mix" of "letting students know that I cared about them but that they were going to follow the rules in my classroom."
Brown, a black man who grew up in Frederick County during the Jim Crow era, had no trouble relating to white students. But Brown said he never had to as a child because he spent the first six years of his education in a one-room, segregated school where students used books handed down from white schools.
When integration finally came, Brown was prepared to compete with white students in integrated schools. He gives credit for that to his parents, who gave him a leg up by teaching him to read before he got to school. They also prepared him psychologically to deal with an integrated setting.
"I was somewhat shielded from some of the obvious racism of that period because of my family structure," Brown recalled. "My self-worth was established by my mother and father, who made me feel I wasn't inferior to anybody. My father and mother were very, very smart and caring people. My dad was smarter than I was. He was the only man I've ever looked up to in my life because of the values he instilled in me."
After Brown entered Libertytown Junior High School as an eighth-grader taking accelerated courses, he was the top student in English and math. Once white students saw he could compete academically, Brown said, "they started coming to me and treating me like I was something special."
Brown was the first black student to make the honor roll and play on the basketball team at Frederick High School. After graduating from there in 1962, he headed to Morgan, where Brown said that he and about 900 other students were arrested for trying to integrate a lunch counter near the school. Brown said that arrest should still be on record. He's never had it expunged.
"Whenever I've applied for a job and there was a question about whether I had ever been arrested, I would say yes," Brown said. "And I still say it proudly."
Brown has even more to be proud of these days. In April, he was inducted into Poly's Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute to a man who's spent nearly four decades at the same school.
"I'm going to miss it," Brown said of Poly, "but it's time to go."