Mike Contino, 1945–2022

California Mathematics Council’s First Executive Secretary and A Leader in Mathematics Education for Over 40 Years


There is no one with longer service to the California Mathematics Council (CMC) than Mike Contino. Mike passed away on March 9th, 2022, surrounded by friends and his whole family.

Mike as Priest

Mike Contino was born and raised in Philadelphia. He originally studied for the priesthood, but his quest for social justice led him to the field of teaching instead. While a middle school mathematics teacher in Moraga in the 1970s, Mike began his many years of volunteer service to mathematics education when he became involved with his local CMC affiliation, the Alameda Contra-Costa Council of Mathematics Educators (AC3ME). At one point, Mike served as the affiliation’s president. As with so many others, Mike’s involvement in his local affiliate led to his involvement in the California Mathematics Council when he was invited to the CMC-North’s label-pasting “party” to prepare the mailing of that year’s northern conference brochure.

One volunteer role after another led Mike to volunteer as registrar for the conference and run for the CMC-North Treasurer position, an office he served in for many years. At that time, the job also included Conference Registrar. Mike assisted many conference attendees in untangling their registration problems before sending them to a successful and enjoyable conference. He also greatly streamlined the conference’s bookkeeping and registration. Margaret DeArmond, Past President of the CMC State Board, wrote:

“I remember the first time I met Mike. It was at the CMC-North Conference at Asilomar - my first time to attend as I had only been to Central and South conferences. I somehow messed up my registration and ended up in the 'red dot line.' Mike was the point person resolving the issues, and he did take care of my problem. As I waited in line and watched him deal with issues and problems—and often some not-too-happy people—I was impressed by his ability to stay calm, polite, and professional. I knew Mike was someone I’d like to know, and how lucky for me that did come true.”

Mike at Asilomar

Sitting at the red dot table, Mike would deal with one problem after another for hours. Most registrants left Mike’s table satisfied and their problem solved, but some people could not be pleased. Yet through it all,  Mike maintained a calm and helpful demeanor, never showing any visible anger or frustration. John Martin, a friend and colleague of Mike’s, was in charge of housing at the conference, remembers...

“I first met Mike in 1986 when he was the registrar for the CMC-North conference, and I was housing chair. The first thing I noticed about him was that he had a wonderful sense of humor. We often joked about the many requests for rooms with a fireplace, a view of the ocean, or a big deck. He also suggested that we consider placing people with complaints in a circus tent on the Asilomar beach!

Mike was also fiercely protective of the many volunteers doing registration at the conference. When he overheard a woman berating me for having placed her in a room that was too small, with no view, and next to the maid’s closet, he hurried to my rescue and offered the lady a complete refund of her housing fees. He also knew there wasn’t a room available within a 20-mile radius of the conference. Years later, we imagined that she was still looking for a room!”

Mike at CSHU

During that time, Mike left the middle school classroom to teach mathematics to prospective teachers as an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Hayward, now CSU East Bay. His teaching style and choice of curricula differed from previous preservice mathematics courses for teachers—he chose to focus on problem solving to reach all students in classrooms, not just those with ability in mathematics. Countless teachers modeled Mike Contino’s teaching style later in their classrooms.

In 1996 Mike was hired by the Bay Area Mathematics Project (BAMP), located at the Lawrence Hall of Science, high in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus. Mike worked as part of the BAMP Summer Institute staff, and was the one who kept things light with his wonderful sense of humor. He reinforced the belief that we learn best when we enjoy the process of learning, and he showed countless teachers ways to make joy a part of their teaching.

One of the BAMP instructors, Gary Tsuruda, found a way to maintain that humorous relationship during the school year when Gary was teaching in his Palo Alto classroom and Mike was far away in the BAMP office.


Mike was more than just my colleague; he was also my Wizard. Mike taught me an amazing magic trick I used to amaze my students at the beginning of each school year. I would tell my class that I knew a Wizard who could read their minds through the telephone. I would ask a student volunteer to shuffle a deck of cards and select a card at random. They would show the card to the whole class. I would then call Mike’s phone and ask to speak to the Wizard. Once I got Mike on the line, he’d ask to speak to the student who selected the card. He would ask them to focus on the card they had selected. Then, he would ask if they were an auditory learner (learns better by hearing things) or a visual learner (learns better by seeing things)? If they said, ‘seeing,’ he would have them place the card over their eyes. If they said, ‘hearing,’ he would have them press it against their ear. Then, Mike, the Wizard, would brusquely announce, ‘It is the 4 of diamonds!’ or whatever the card happened to be, and immediately hang up, leaving the students in total shock and amazement! No student ever figured out how the Wizard could read minds through the telephone. Mike was a wonderful Wizard in so many ways. He taught me how to have fun with mathematics, and more than anyone else I know, embodied the CMC goal of 'promoting professional activities that will ensure continual improvement towards excellence in the teaching of mathematics.'  I was proud to call Mike my colleague, mentor, friend, and Wizard!

Mike Contino served the special role within BAMP as Director of Assessment for the California Middle School Demonstration Program. At the time, the State Department of Education offered significant grants to many public middle schools to improve their mathematics curriculum and instruction for underserved students. Mike assembled a team of highly experienced middle school teachers—many were also CMC leaders—and under his leadership, they traveled to each Middle School Demonstration site to personally observe teachers’ classrooms and teaching. They then reported back to the State Board to ensure the funds served the students the way the grants intended and students used the funds effectively.

Mike at CMC Booth

That same year, Mike Contino was elected to the office of CMC State Treasurer. Mike’s fascination with computers was as strong as his interest in mathematics education. Mike streamlined CMC’s accounting process by bringing their books into the computer age and instituted an extensive database for keeping track of member data. At CMC State Board meetings, he arranged all the logistics for lodgings, meals, and travel reimbursements, and also served as ex-officio CMC historian due to his long involvement with the Council. Countless times someone would turn to Mike and say, “How did we use to...”

When Mike was CMC-North Treasurer, Paul Giganti was CMC-North President, and Sherry Fraser was CMC-North Secretary. Mike and Paul worked at the Bay Area Mathematics Project (BAMP), and Sherry worked for EQUALS; both were projects at the Lawrence Hall of Science. The three were only separated by a hallway, and they collaborated on many innovative BAMP and CMC schemes. Paul wrote:

CMC-N Officers

“I remember how exciting and fun it was cooking up new projects with MIke. Our desks faced each other with only our computer monitors in between. Often, one or the other of us would crane our necks around our screen and share a new idea for BAMP or CMC. One day I bent around my monitor and remarked to Mike that we should do something for the spouses and significant-others of CMC board members since they truly made it possible for all of us to donate our time to CMC. Mike suggested that at one of our board meetings we invite them to a gala dinner and that our San Francisco meeting would be perfect for that purpose. Mike knew how to run with an idea and also suggested we host everyone in a three or four-star San Francisco hotel as opposed to our usual meetings held at a budget hotels near airports. Then he further suggested we also attend a live musical that was currently playing in San Francisco the evening of our meeting and invite everyone who wished to attend. For many years, until budgets became tight, our San Francisco CMC-State meeting was the highlight of the year for members, their spouses, and significant-others thanks to Mike!”

Mike's Polya Award

Up until 1995, the California Mathematics Council had been an all-volunteer organization. When CMC membership reached a peak that year of over 10,000, the workload for the president of CMC State—a full-time volunteer position in addition to their CMC duties—became too much for one person. The CMC State Board, under the presidency of Paul Giganti, decided the time was right for CMC to hire its first paid employee. The board decided that an Executive Secretary would best suit the needs of the Council and its officers. Mike was the first to serve in that role beginning Margaret DeArmond’s presidency in 1996. Mike served as Executive Secretary until he retired in 2016 after serving twenty years under ten CMC administrations.

In 1991, Mike was awarded CMC’s George Polya Memorial Award, the highest honor conferred upon an outstanding teacher of mathematics serving over a sustained period of time and who has been an active participant in CMC leadership.

One of the many things Mike did early in his role as Executive Secretary of CMC was establish the first CMC toll-free phone number. Mike kept that single-purpose telephone at home and answered the phone whenever CMC officer, member, prospective member, or California teacher needed a CMC service or information—serving thousands of people over those twenty years. Mike’s devotion to CMC was second only to his family. With all the CMC meetings and conferences in which Mike had important roles, his family always came first. His adult daughter, Erin’s personal story, says a lot about Mike Contino’s long and devoted service to the California Mathematics Council, California educators, and his family. Erin wrote:

Mike and Erin

“When I was in college, I remember the CMC land-line phone—1-888-CMC-MATH—was in our house, right next to my Dad’s computer desk in the family room. He tended to work very late into the night—often until 2:00 in the morning. So in the pre-cell phone days, I knew that if I needed to reach my Dad in a hurry in the middle of the night without waking the whole family, I could call the CMC 800 number instead of the home phone, and he would answer because that phone only rang at his desk. And that was also before Caller ID, so Dad didn’t know if it was me or a CMC problem to deal with until I said, 'Hi, Dad!'"

To further honor Mike’s long service to mathematics education, the California Mathematics Council has posthumously set up a new scholarship, named The Mike Contino Scholarship. This scholarship will be available to University or College professors who work with preservice teachers just as Mike did. They can apply for up to $2000 in funds to support the costs of bringing a group of preservice teachers to one of the CMC conferences.