When computer science teacher Mike Van Dyk returns to Coral Gables Senior High School in the fall, he will leave the drama of summer behind.
“I will not have time to dwell on the past. I have the future, the future of my students to think about,” Van Dyk said.
Surplussed in early June from his position in the school’s Academy of Business, Management and Information Technology, Van Dyk, 61, was reinstated early last week.
About 20 parents and students, many of whom had rallied for the reversal, turned out Wednesday for a celebratory dinner with Van Dyk at Tien Kue restaurant.
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“I was ecstatic when I found out Mr. Van Dyk would be staying. And I found out on my birthday making it my best birthday ever,” said student Julian Mitat, 16.
Student Jamile Reid, 17, said kids went from crushed to elated in one month’s time. Van Dyk’s student roll includes about 160 teens.
“When we found out Mr. Van Dyk would not be our teacher next year, it was like the world came crashing down,” said Jamile who will be a senior when school resumes on August 20. “I chose to be in computer science for the rest of my life and suddenly I didn’t know how that would happen.”
On June 7, when students learned that Van Dyk was let go, 200 of them signed a petition to get him back.
Parents worried that Van Dyk’s leaving would signal an end to the computer technology portion of the academy, and hence opportunities that have led to many student awards and scholarships.
Last year alone, Van Dyk’s students won first place in the Florida International University Programming Competition; and first place at the University of Florida Programming Competition. At the Future Business Leaders of America District Competition, the school took first place awards in Network Design, Data Base Design, Desktop Application Programming and Intro to Technology Concepts.
At a meeting with parents in mid-June, Principal Adolfo Costa explained that his decision was based on numbers. Enrollment for the academy, including some classes taught by Van Dyk, had been decreasing over the last few years, he said.
“There are not enough students. It’s not financially sound ... I had to look at it and say we have to cut,” Costa said at the time.
Parents were not convinced nor did they know at the time that Costa had hired a head basketball coach and special education teacher — not certified in computer technology — to lead the academy.
They presented testimonials, sent emails and letters and placed phone calls urging teachers’ union and school district officials to look into the matter.
Meanwhile, having spent 30 years in the computer industry and the last seven teaching, Van Dyk was being recruited by private and charter schools offering more money, smaller class sizes, stronger administrative staffs and “prettier” classrooms, he said.
He was tempted.
“But they could not offer the kind of loyalty I’ve seen from the (Coral Gables) parents and students in the past few months,” Van Dyke said.
Parents said at the celebration dinner that they are unsure why Van Dyk was called back to work. Calls made to Miami-Dade School’s Regional Superintendent Alex Martinez for comment were not returned.
“We were ready to raise hell,” said parent Andrew Chung. “But the fact is that whatever we did already, paid off.”
Parent Silvana Castaneda said that while students and parents are thrilled about getting their teacher back, she hopes the teens also learned a valuable life lesson.
“All things are possible if you take action. If you are right about something ... you have to take action,” Castaneda said.