REACH and the Man Behind the Ties

Firm, but nurturing; fair and respectful. These are just some of the many attributes that characterize one of the most beloved and dedicated teachers at the Academy of Notre Dame. Not only is Jim Byrnes a consummate professional who is known for his successful teaching strategies, but he is quite possibly the best accessorized math teacher in the Lower School.

With a collection of well over 80 ties gifted to him by his students throughout the years, Mr. Byrnes can always be found wearing a statement piece. Whether made out of wood, velcro, or traditional materials, there’s a story behind each and every tie.

"I wear ties to school because I feel its only fair considering students are required to wear uniforms," explains Byrnes. "My collection started my first year here when a 4th grader shyly asked me if I liked ties. She got a huge grin on her face when I answered 'yes' and the rest is history. Even my colleagues give them to me now. Everyone seems to get a kick out of seeing me wear them and that's all the motivation I need to keep wearing them!"

Mr. Byrnes earned a BS in Mathematics and Secondary Education at the University of Lowell and a M.Ed. in Integrated Studies from Cambridge College. This year marks his 39th-year teaching. He has been welcoming students into his classroom at the Academy since 2011 when he transitioned away from high school and college curriculums to elementary and middle years math. Once here, he implemented and refined the Academy’s math REACH program for grades 4 through 8. 

"The purpose of the program is to ensure that when students reach their senior year of high school they will be able to take calculus or AP calculus and the only way to do that is to get students past Algebra I in their Freshman year. The REACH program has been successful in helping students do that by providing a path toward matriculating one grade level ahead during their elementary years." 

Seniors and former students of Mr. Byrnes, Priya Kumari of Tyngsboro and Amaya Murguia of Hollis, NH, say they are very grateful for his tutelage. “Any student who has ever taken Math Reach will agree that he truly cares about his students and is willing to help them learn whenever any concept is unclear.  Because we were a part of Math Reach in seventh and eighth grade, we were able to test out of the Algebra I class and take the sophomore Algebra II class our freshman year.  This has allowed us to take college-level calculus our junior year of high school.  Mr. Byrnes’ exemplary teaching has provided for us a strong foundation in mathematics that has helped us to excel in both standardized testing and our academic courses.”

Mr. Byrnes enjoys a more lighthearted approach with his students at the Academy than what he had with older students at previous positions saying that his students are great about being able to laugh and joke and then get right back on task.

His students seem to thrive within this type of learning environment. In fact, among his 8th graders who take high school placement or math placement tests, 100% of them are recommended for placement in advanced or honors programs.

"His work with students is unparalleled," says Lower School Principal Elizabeth O'Connell. "Among Mr. Byrnes’ greatest strengths is his acute awareness of his student’s individual needs, meticulous preparation, and ability to break down concepts so students can more easily comprehend them."

"Mr. Byrnes teaches the whole class, but it seems like he teaches everyone individually," writes Cody Sheedy an 8th grade student from Pepperell. Also an 8th grader, Shreya Sagi of Nashua, remarks, "He is funny and influences me to be a better student.

With a tie collection that exists as a testament to the rapport he has built with his students and with the school itself over the years, Mr. Byrnes says he embraces opportunities to talk about his experiences in the classroom and share his views on the benefits of an Academy education. He, as well as all of the other Lower School teachers, will be available to speak with prospective students and parents at open house events on Sunday, January 29th and Saturday, February 11th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. He also recommends families schedule Shadow Day opportunities for the children to get a real feel for what it would be like to be an Academy student. For more information, call 978-649-7611, Ext. 327 or visit