Some Coral Gables High School parents are fighting against the “surplus” of a computer technology teacher they say has inspired their children beyond the call of duty.
They are also convinced that losing teacher Michael Van Dyk could signal the end of the computer technology portion of the school’s Academy of Business, Management and Information Technology.
“If Mr. Van Dyk goes, IT goes. But computer programming is not ‘surplus.’ It is not an elective and it is necessary in the world in which we live. We’re concerned that colleges will not look at our school as a place to recruit talent if the program is gone,” said parent Laurie Overholser Baad.
Principal Adolpho Costa met with a group of nearly 30 parents and students recently to explain his decision and to promise them that although Van Dyk will be transferred to another school — not laid off or fired from his job as a Miami-Dade teacher — the school’s computer tech program will not die.
According to Costa, the decision was based on numbers that do not justifying the academy’s six-teacher staff.
Enrollment for the academy, including some classes taught by Van Dyk, had been decreasing over the last few years. Making matters worse, none of Van Dyk’s students have taken year-end certification tests in the last two years, Costa said.
“There are not enough students. It’s not financially sound,” Costa said.
Costa said cutting Van Dyk was based only on seniority as mandated by school district’s contract with the teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Dade. With only six years at the school, Van Dyk was lowest on the academy’s totem pole.
“Personal feelings and emotions are not part of the decision making process. The computer science program will not die at Coral Gables High School. I will find an alternative way,” Costa said.
The cost for a part-time teacher will be about $10,000 Costa said.
By contrast, the salary range for Miami-Dade public school teachers is between $38,500 and $68,225.Costa plans to replace Van Dyk with a part time adjunct professor of computer sciences from either Miami-Dade College or Florida International University. He said this alternative will benefit students more, because they could dual-enroll with the colleges for college credit. He also said his plan will help revitalize the program.
Parents were not swayed. They want Van Dyk.
“Are you aware of what he does for students? He changes lives. He is dedicated to them,” said parent Andrew Chung.
Recent Coral Gables high graduate Evan Baad, son of Laurie Overholser Baad, said Van Dyk did the most important thing a teacher can do for students: inspire.
“It’s great when a kid can spend an hour and a half a day learning what they want to be for the rest of his life,” Evan Baad said.
Parents cited numerous awards won by the school’s IT program students in just the past year: first place in the Florida International University Programming Competition; fist place at the University of Florida Programming Competition. And at the Future Business Leaders of America District Competition, the school took first place awards in Network Design, Database Design, Desktop Application Programming and Intro to Technology Concepts.
Chung noted that Van Dyk, who is steering clear of the parent protests, was at the time of the meeting — and without pay — helping students with projects for an FIU summer tech program.
Van Dyk “is a creator of leaders,” said parent Silvana Casteneda in one of many emails sent to Costa and Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Casteneda, Chung and Baad are at the heart of efforts to keep Van Dyk.
Parents began mobilizing when word spread of Van Dyk’s “surplussing” a day before the last day of school. More than 200 students signed a petition; about a dozen parents wrote testimonials that were sent to Carvalho and Costa; and Casteneda posted a written plea in the Coral Gables Community news section of Examiner.com.
They went to the school meeting to implore Costa to keep Van Dyke and to offer ideas for changes that could improve the IT program — perhaps create a math and science academy where computer technology would be a better fit.
Costa said he is open to ideas to improve the program and asked students to come up with recommendations — but Van Dyke is out.
“This is about Mr. Van Dyk vs computer science numbers. Its not about names on a petition. I’m not going to be passionate. This has nothing to do with a person, it has everything to do with a program,” Costa said.
Parents promised to keep up the fight.
They recently learned through several teachers at the school that the academy’s reorganization had already begun. Costa had hired Coral Reef High School’s head basketball coach and special education teacher Gaston “Chachi” Rodriguez to lead the Academy of Business which will likely be renamed the International Academy.
Costa declined to talk to The Miami Herald after the meeting with parents, saying he was unaware that the parents had invited a reporter to the meeting.
Parents will meet July 7 with Catherine Robinson, the regional outreach manager of StudentsFirst. The national grassroots movement founded in Washington DC in 2010, helps parents, students and community members improve schools by standing up against the status quo and putting children first.
School board representatives and elected government officials have been invited to attend.
“Computer technology programs teach kids top essential skills for every aspect of today’s world. Why wouldn’t we do everything we can to keep it moving forward at Coral Gables High School?” Baad said.