Archive for December 2011

The Herald-Times: MCCSC substitute teachers call for for increase in pay

December 22, 2011

By April Toler331-4353 |
December 17, 2011

Peggy Chambers

Pay for substitute teachers is up for review at Monroe County Community School Corp.

MCCSC has a pool of 260 substitute teachers and uses an average of about 75 per day, according to Peggy Chambers, MCCSC assistant superintendent for human resources.

The district pays $60 a day for noncertified teachers, $70 a day for certified teachers and $80 a day for retired MCCSC teachers.

After discussion initiated by MCCSC subs, Chambers said the district decided to take a closer look at the issue.

Additionally, the district takes an annual look at all support staff salary and benefit packages this time of year to coincide with the expiration of unionized support staff’s contracts, she said.

Unionized support staff includes bus drivers and monitors, custodians and food service employees. Nonunionized staff includes a number of groups, including substitute teachers, teacher aides, secretaries and coordinators, security guards and custodial supervisors.

“We are trying to address several employees,” Chambers said. “Almost all employee groups have expressed a concern about wages.”

One substitute teacher who has been vocal about a pay increase is David Wierhake, who is also a former MCCSC employee. Wierhake has addressed the school board a number of times asking for an increase in pay, particularly after the district made school days longer but did not increase substitute teachers’ pay.

“Essentially substitute teachers this year have taken a 15 percent pay cut,” Wierhake told the board.

Wierhake is asking the board to increase sub pay to the national average of $105 a day.

Chambers said the district’s pay rate is in line with similar districts. “We feel what we are offering our substitutes is comparable to what’s being offered to substitutes in the area,” she said.

Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. pays $65 for subs with an associate’s degree and $80 for those with a bachelor’s degree/teacher license.

Martinsville School District pays $64 for certified teachers and $60-$62 for noncertified; Eastern Greene Schools pays $60 for certified and $55 for noncertified; and Lafayette School Corp. pays a flat rate of $65 a day.

Indianapolis Public Schools has one of the highest pay rates at $125 for certified teachers; $75-$100 for noncertified and $150 for retired IPS teachers.

Chambers plans to make a recommendation to the board early next year.

MCCSC ‘Misuse’ Of Funds: Are iPads essential to learning?

December 21, 2011

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute


The New York Times

LOS ALTOS, Calif. — The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”

While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.

On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.

Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.

In second grade, students standing in a circle learned language skills by repeating verses after the teacher, while simultaneously playing catch with bean bags. It’s an exercise aimed at synchronizing body and brain. Here, as in other classes, the day can start with a recitation or verse about God that reflects a nondenominational emphasis on the divine.

Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”

Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.

Is learning through cake fractions and knitting any better? The Waldorf advocates make it tough to compare, partly because as private schools they administer no standardized tests in elementary grades. And they would be the first to admit that their early-grade students may not score well on such tests because, they say, they don’t drill them on a standardized math and reading curriculum.

When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.

Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.

Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.

Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.

Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”

“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.

“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.

And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

There are also plenty of high-tech parents at a Waldorf school in San Francisco and just north of it at the Greenwood School in Mill Valley, which doesn’t have Waldorf accreditation but is inspired by its principles.

California has some 40 Waldorf schools, giving it a disproportionate share — perhaps because the movement is growing roots here, said Lucy Wurtz, who, along with her husband, Brad, helped found the Waldorf high school in Los Altos in 2007. Mr. Wurtz is chief executive of Power Assure, which helps computer data centers reduce their energy load.

The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available. She says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.

The students, meanwhile, say they don’t pine for technology, nor have they gone completely cold turkey. Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates say they occasionally watch movies. One girl, whose father works as an Apple engineer, says he sometimes asks her to test games he is debugging. One boy plays with flight-simulator programs on weekends.

The students say they can become frustrated when their parents and relatives get so wrapped up in phones and other devices. Aurad Kamkar, 11, said he recently went to visit cousins and found himself sitting around with five of them playing with their gadgets, not paying attention to him or each other. He started waving his arms at them: “I said: ‘Hello guys, I’m here.’ ”

Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.

“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”


“One More Shot At The Title”: MCCSC’s New Year’s Resolution

December 14, 2011



Remarks delivered by David Wierhake to the MCCSC School Board and Administration on Tuesday, December 13, 2011.

I would like to thank the Board and Superintendent DeMuth for granting me the time to speak out on behalf of all MCCSC substitute teachers.

But before I get started, I just want to say how delighted I was to see Dr. DeMuth in the audience at the Fairview Elementary School CODA Academy recital last Thursday. After only five lessons, my guitar student Christopher showcased his ease at finger-picking the acoustic guitar. We played a duet on a song I wrote called “Blue Santa”. Christopher did a fantastic job! I hope I live long enough to say, “I knew him when…”

We are nearing the one year anniversary of when I first addressed the Board (February 2011) regarding substitute teacher compensation or lack thereof. Many emails have been exchanged since that time; many ideas put on the table. When the 2011-12 MCCSC extended day made headlines, again the substitute teacher compensation issue came up. The Board elected NOT to increase the day rate for subs, and therefore indirectly administered a 15% pay cut to all dedicated guest teachers. I personally met  with Dr. DeMuth in August following the Board’s inaction and again put out the plea for fairness—a day’s pay for a day’s work e.g. if you want subs to work an additional hour, then find a way to pay them for said extra hour. My efforts proved futile. In fact, Dr. DeMuth said, “Why should we pay you more? We can get IU students for free.”

At that time many on the school board were of the mind that the ‘law’ of supply and demand rule and there will always be an adequate supply of willing—and desperate—sub teachers from our university community. But in reality, there actually has been a system-wide shortage of substitute teachers this year. Granted, this shortage varies from school to school, from day to day, but everyone I talk to within the halls of learning say that, “Yes, we are having a difficult time finding qualified substitute teachers.”

I put my heart and soul into every sub teaching assignment I sign up for. When I substitute in each and every school it is a win-win situation between the students and me; their smiling young faces enrich me and they are inspired by my experience, wisdom, and wit. It is not a win-win situation between MCCSC and myself as I am compensated for my time and talents at a rate that is slightly above minimum wage. (In speaking with two BHSS students today and I found out how dedicated they were to their part-time jobs. One young man works in the deli department at a local Kroger and the other pushes carts to and ‘fro at Walmart. We figured out I make about fifty cents more per hour than they do.)

So, where do we go from here?

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the graduating class of Vanderbilt University saying:

“You have responsibilities, in short, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents. You must decide, as Goethe put it, whether you will be an anvil or a hammer, whether you will give to the world in which you were reared and educated the broadest possible benefits of that education.”

He went on to say that of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, he would include one’s obligation to the pursuit of learning and the obligation to serve the public; to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans, from grade school to graduate school.

President Kennedy also said “…modern skeptics see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.“

At Bloomington High School North recently I had the pleasure of walking into a classroom engaged in viewing the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream” speech. Please allow me to use some of Dr. King’s choice words:

There are those who ask me—David Wierhake, when will you be satisfied? I can never be satisfied as long as the leadership of this corporation fails to embrace this very important issue. I can never be satisfied as long as a MCCSC substitute teacher is compensated less than a MCCSC school crossing guard. I cannot be satisfied as long as the administration puts more emphasis on material resources than human resources. No, no, I am not satisfied and I will not be satisfied until the substitute teacher in this progressive community is rewarded adequately to the tune of $105/day (which is the national average) and treated with respect for the professional they are.

How many of you recall the movie A FEW GOOD MEN? Do you remember the scene where actor Tom Cruise is on the witness stand and Jack Nicholson shouts out, “You want the truth? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Again, quoting JFK’s remarks at Vanderbilt University (It) will still pass on to the youth of our land the full meaning of their rights and their responsibilities. And it will still be teaching the truth — the truth that makes us free and will keep us free.”

At Grandview Elementary School today it was a blessing to experience the K thru 3 Christmas music program. Bravo! At Grandview, they have their own code of ethics, but one thing rings out: “Do the right thing!”

I encourage the school board and administration to do the right thing. And, all I want for Christmas is an increase in the sub teachers pay rate that approaches the national average of $105/day in 2012.

Thank you and “Happy Holidays!”

David Wierhake