David Gertler knows that sometimes you can inspire young people with just one word — especially when it's uttered three times.
The Ellicott City resident and Howard County Board of Education candidate says that when it's his turn to take the youngsters in his parent carpool to school, he always drops them off with the words his mother uttered to him as a child: "Learn, learn, learn."
He has learned how infectious the word can be.
"One of the kids switched out of the car pool because her mom and dad moved, but I ran into her the other day, and it had been at least three years since I saw her, but she said, 'Mr. Gertler, learn, learn, learn,' " he said.
Now he hopes to bring that same infectious attitude to the Howard school board. He believes his background in math, business administration and management is ideal for a school system facing budgetary woes and a possible strain of resources when the Base Realignment and Closure measures bring thousands more students into the state and possibly the Howard school system.
"We need people on the board who have expertise to help assess, plan, manage, forecast and address that growth. I actually have expertise in that area because of my mathematical modeling," Gertler said about BRAC. He added that Howard County should also seize the opportunity to infuse more technology into the classrooms.
Yet he said that above all he hopes to introduce methods that inspire youngsters to learn.
"The key is, how do you make learning fun?" said Gertler. "I teach part time at Towson University, pre-calculus, which is probably one of the more challenging classes. And I realize that not everyone has my passion for math. That's OK, but the key idea is how do you instill that, how do you inspire students?
"That's what drives me. It's not worrying about standardized tests, or how well a student does on a particular homework problem. It's how do you instill this excitement and joy for learning. That's what I love about it."
Gertler grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and earned four college degrees, including a master's degree in electrical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University and a master's in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He initially came to the Baltimore area in the 1980s, working at Fort Meade as a mathematician.
He is currently a program director at L3 Communications, having previously worked as a software executive helping to turn around companies.
Gertler has lived in Howard County for 25 years and has a daughter who is a senior at Centennial High School and a son who is an eighth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School.
Gertler said that he became involved with Howard's school system — by volunteering on advisory councils — before he had children. At a Tuesday night forum that featured all 11 Board of Education candidates, Gertler told the audience how he inspires math students.
"Teaching math is like teaching magic," he said. "The first time I show you a trick, you go, 'Ooooh!' And then when I show you how the trick is done, you go, 'Oh!' and when you practice it at home, and you get good at it, you go, 'Ahhh.' It's really that three-step process" to inspire students.
Among the non-incumbents running for the school board, Gertler is one of a few who has not questioned the current board's accessibility and openness to the Howard community.
"I think that some of the communities have had mixed experiences with the board," Gertler said. "Rightly or wrongly, there is that perception, and whether it's true or not, it definitely is a perception in some parts of the community that they haven't had enough access, or appropriate access to the board.
"I do know the board does provide a number of different mechanisms in which parents and community leaders and citizens can participate," Gertler added. "But I'm not sure if it's a major issue or merely something where you just do minor improvements."
The 11 candidates are vying for four seats on the school board. The primary will be held Sept. 14; the general election is Nov. 2.