Stephen "Sparky" Clark's Departure From The Hill Sparks Nostalgia
Stephen Clark, better known as “Sparky,” will be retiring from Hopkins after nearly 33 years on The Hill.
During his tenure, Sparky taught a wide array of math classes, watched Hopkins grow, and offered an honest voice to faculty and students alike. Sparky’s first days were when Hopkins was a smaller institution, just beginning to make bigger developments. The Walter Camp Athletic Center (WCAC) was completed, but it was really “before we had any nice academic buildings at Hopkins and we had many more trees,” Sparky said. He describes the time as one when graphing calculators were just beginning to make their debut and word processing did not exist, meaning all documents were written by hand. From that point forward, Sparky watched and helped Hopkins grow into the institution it is today.
As the surroundings evolved, in particular with the implementation of more technology on campus, Sparky remained a constant source of authentic teaching. Head of the Math Department Jeannine Minort-Kale said, “Sparky's math classes have occasionally been referred to as some of the most challenging at Hopkins. What some miss about this 'challenge' is that it is rooted in his high expectations for students. He believes that they are capable of rigorous mathematics and has shown over and over again that he is willing to do whatever he can to help them achieve at that level.” Although he dabbled in teaching English and Economics, Sparky is known for his work in the Math Department. He has taught almost all of the Upper School Math classes. Despite the many years he spent teaching mathematics, Sparky still found joy in it each day, “Every time I go back to a course that I haven’t taught for a few years, I am just as excited to teach it as I was the first time, perhaps even more, because I usually have a better feel and a different perspective on how the concepts fit together and connect to other courses. The beauty of math just never gets old.”
Sparky always took the opportunity to learn something new, especially if it is related to math. He often spent his summers taking classes at Wesleyan University, where he took 25 courses in the Wesleyan Graduate Liberal Studies program and earned a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with a concentration in math. He laughed and said, “I’ve actually run out of math classes to take,” but added how learning in the summer “provides just enough structure to the day while still allowing plenty of time to relax.” Sparky strove to convey the joy of math to his students, and added “I hope I helped hundreds of Hopkins students find a way to enjoy learning challenging mathematics; good thinking is hard work, but it is also very satisfying.”
The correlation between hard work and satisfaction is not a foreign one to Sparky. The same attitude he applied to his teaching is one that carried over to athletics as coach of JV Boys Soccer, basketball, and golf for a number of years. Sparky spent 31 years, with only a few seasons off, coaching JV Boys Soccer, and recalls that one of the “best moments of his life” was a long hoped-for victory against Taft Boys Soccer. Sparky remembers Taft’s team being full of bigger and more experienced players than Hopkins’; however, after a few lucky goals, Hopkins was able to come out on top. Sparky vividly replayed his reaction and how “at the end of the game I just went and lay down in the middle of the field, and looked up at the sky.” What encompasses Sparky’s entire experience at Hopkins is the work of a team. Whether it be on the field or in the classroom, “I love the good will of the group. I love feeling like part of a team that simply enjoys being together,” he emphasized.
Sparky is often seen with his arms stretched wide, an apple in each hand, and a content smile as he walks around campus. He has a deep love for Hopkins and the community. Head of School Dr. Kai Bynum said: “He is one of the best teachers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, and friends we have had at Hopkins, and he impacted more lives than he can imagine. Personally, I always appreciated his authentic presence and lively spirit on campus. I know I will always get a pure perspective and honest voice when I speak with him, which is often a difficult thing to deliver.” Sparky’s authenticity shone through whether he is teaching, interacting with faculty, or simply walking around campus.
His goal with students was that they learn to be better thinkers, even if that comes with a challenge: “Good learning isn’t necessarily easy. Learning to think is hard work, because thinking well is hard work, and you become a better person and student because of it,” he said. In the process of relaying this message to his students, Sparky learned more about himself through years of being at Hopkins. Sparky notes that he is not the most extroverted person; however, teaching brings out a different side of him. “Teaching releases me in that indescribably energizing give-and-take of careful thought, organized, logical reasoning, and thoroughly random, unpredictable social banter and storytelling,” Sparky reflected. Sparky added a vibrant energy to the classroom. “Sparky’s kind, gracious, positive energy convinced me that I probably should take this job, and for the last 25 years he has continued to radiate those good vibes, making my easy decision look very smart in retrospect,” said fellow math teacher David McCord.
In terms of Sparky’s plans for next year: “I will probably play a little more golf. I want to take classes--maybe something like lifetime learning at Wesleyan. I would like to travel a tiny bit more. I suppose I am most looking forward to the flexibility of doing whatever seems right at that moment.” Sparky may be leaving behind the school, but he hopes to maintain the same spirit and feeling of unity he gets from being at Hopkins: “That sense of being what you do, instead of just having a job, is what I hope I can sustain the rest of my life.” Sparky’s teaching, coaching, and presence have impacted much of the Hopkins community, and he will be greatly missed: “I will never forget Sparky and his contagious energy and love for math,” said Amanda Leone ’20.
As someone who played many roles on campus from constructing new courses to coaching three teams to teaching for many years, Sparky is deeply rooted at Hopkins. Despite his final decision to retire and enjoy some flexibility, Sparky cherishes many aspects of Hopkins: “I will miss walking out on the grass of the soccer field, the sounds and smells and changing light of the passing seasons, I will miss walking up and down the stairs between Baldwin and Thompson. I will miss all the happy chatter of students in my classes, and all the laughter I hear upstairs in Heath and in the dining hall. Above all else, I will miss being in the classroom."