James Simons, the founder of East Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies LLC and a former mathematics professor, told an audience of about 500 high school students, college students, teachers and faculty from Long Island and the metropolitan area that it is essential to reward top-tier math and science teachers.

Speaking at the TIME (Teaching Improvements through Mathematics Education) 2000 program at Queens College on Friday, Simons said that 10 percent of math and science teachers in New York City public schools are participating in Math for America, the fellowship program he founded.

“Instead of trying to get rid of the bad teachers . . . it’s more important in any organization to recognize and reward the good ones,” said the billionaire philanthropist, whose hedge fund pioneered algorithms that enable high-speed stock trading.

Simons, who chaired the Stony Brook University mathematics department before turning to finance, was introduced as a mathematics “rock star” by Queens College president Félix V. Matos Rodriguez.

TIME 2000 is an annual daylong program of speeches and workshops designed to inspire high school students to enter the four-year Queens College program that lets students major in mathematics and mathematics education.

Simons, the wealthiest Long Islander according to the most recent Forbes ranking, said that Math for America has spread beyond New York City’s borders to aid the best teachers throughout New York State.

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“I hope before I pass to mathematics heaven, this will become a national program,” he said.

Students and teachers from 27 high schools attended, including five from Long Island: Bethpage High School, Elmont Memorial High School, H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, Valley Stream Central High School and Valley Stream North High School.

The 15th annual session of TIME 2000 was created and organized by professor Alice Artzt, who runs the Queens College program.