Malcolm Price Laboratory School (MPLS)

By John Tarr on June 11, 2013

Malcolm Price Laboratory School (MPLS), to me, is people -- students, parents, faculty. My professional life was spent at MPLS, primarily from 1961 to 1998. When I joined the MPLS mathematics faculty I was about ten years older than my oldest students and I was the youngest teacher on the staff. I had lot to learn. Fortunately I was treated kindly by forgiving students and nurturing colleagues. An early memory was a leaving school late on a Friday, thinking I was probably the last teacher to leave. On my way out I met Dr. Marguerite Strubble, a teacher of Latin/French, who was working even later than I was. She was nearing retirement; I knew that, like Dr. Strubble, I would probably be working long hours all my career.

Over the years I worked with many mathematics teachers, most notably Don Wiederanders, Joe Hohlfeld, George Immerzeel, Lynn Schwandt, Earl Ockenga, and Dennis Kettner. Each influenced the way I grew as a teacher. We often developed our own teaching materials. Some of those ideas eventually found their way into published textbooks. The “modern math” years were especially challenging and stimulating for teachers and students alike.

The MPLS mathematics program covered all grades, kindergarten through twelfth grade. My focus was primarily in the high school, but including summer school and UNI extension classes, I eventually taught at every level from first grade through university graduate school classes. The one summer I taught first grade I was fortunate to have Dr. Judith Finkelstein, a skilled teacher in early childhood education, teaching in the adjoining classroom. Without her help, I was a fish out of water.

At the urging of some middle school students we began participation in Math Counts Contests. Some of our teams excelled at the regional, state, and national levels. I still marvel at how quickly students could think and respond. They could have done well in Jeopardy. One student I remember in particular was also an excellent violinist. I learned that he got up at 4:00 to spend an hour playing his violin before starting the rest of his day. He had found that the harder you work the easier the job becomes.

For most of my teaching years, the director of MPLS was Dr. Ross Nielsen. Even though he had been my student teaching supervisor and later was a teaching colleague, I could never get myself to call him “Ross;” he was always “Dr. Nielsen” to me. He devoted his life to MPLS. Much of the success and recognition that came to the school, its faculty, and its students can be traced back to Dr. Nielsen. He paved the way and opened doors for others to succeed. During many of these years, MPLS had three other administrators -- Dr. James Albrecht, Dr. James Doud, and Dr. Jerry Duea -- who shared Nielsen’s philosophy. They too were incredibly supportive of the faculty and students.

Parents of MPLS students were dedicated to MPLS. I am proud to have been a parent of three graduates of Northern University High School; Steve Tarr, Carla Tarr Waller, and James Tarr are marked with the MPLS stamp. MPLS parents were a close-knit group and helped the school in innumerable ways. Parent-student-teachers conferences were part of communications/advising network. Teachers served as advisors to the same group of students for as many as six years. MPLS guidance counselors took conscientious responsibility for assisting students in their choices within MPLS and with scholarship opportunities and enrollment procedures for college.

A remarkable feature of MPLS was the spirit of cooperation that prevailed throughout the faculty. We had outstanding academic and extracurricular programs. Students had many activities in which they might participate, and sometimes they had to make choices. It was not unusual for students to have a role in a drama or musical production while also competing on an athletic team. The directors and coaches made it work. Students of French or Russian or Spanish might also be involved in Speech or Science or Social Studies activities. Selfless cooperation is rare commodity; we were blessed.

One year I served as acting director of MPLS. For the first time I appreciated the scope of the work routinely done by administrators. Students and faculty were my first concern, but I also worked with the support staff including secretaries, cooks, bus drivers, custodians, and so on. I came to know that support of MPLS could be found throughout the University of Northern Iowa and in the community of Cedar Falls. Support for MPLS was also found throughout Iowa and the nation, often coming from lives we touched -- MPLS graduates, former student teachers, students from UNI classes, and professional colleagues.

We only go around once. I am glad that my “go around” was at Price Laboratory School.

John Tarr
MPLS Mathematics Department


  1. 3 Fred Brandt 08 Feb


    You had such a positive influence on my appreciation for Mathematics as a one year student at MPLS and in your Math Functions class in 1966-1967. As a matter of fact, after reading your article, I retrieved my report cards with your grades and editorial comments from that year and it brought back memories of your professional influence on my academic and professional life. Your emphasis on the pursuit of precision and excellence positively enhanced the foundation for my 32 year career as an airline pilot, and I feel honored to be able to finally say 'Thank You Sir' on this website. 







  2. 2 Raylesha Creighton-lewis 06 Feb
    I remember Dr. Tarr so incredibly fondly, he made math make sense. Thanks to him I left MPLS confident and ready for new challenges in college. It is now my pleasure passing on all I learned in Algebra to my 7th grader now.
  3. 1 Jack Okerstrom 06 Sep
    Dr. Tarr
     My memory is not what it used to be, but I can remember your gentle counseling and your gift you shared in our math class.
     I am now a retired Orthodontist in Kansas City with fond memories of you, my happy childhood, and my backward looking gratitude for having the gift of MPLS. 



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