Catholic schools struggling to recruit, retain teachers

Monday, September 24, 2001
Page 17A

Catholic schools struggling to recruit, retain teachers

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Geri Graniero should be exactly what Catholic schools are looking for in a teacher.

She went to Catholic schools for eight years as a child before attending the Catholic College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. She talks happily of the benefits of a Catholic education.

So why is she teaching at public Hebron Valley Middle School in Carrollton?

“When I found out what the pay was in Catholic schools, I knew there was no way I’d ever work there,” she said. “It’s poverty level.”

Ms. Graniero and others like her are an increasing problem for Catholic schools, locally and nationally. Their salaries have long been well below what public schools can pay, and it is getting harder to persuade teachers to work for less.

Decades ago, when Catholic education was primarily the work of religious orders, schools didn’t have to worry about recruitment and stability. There was little risk that a top teacher was going to be hired away by a rival nunnery.

But today, more than 90 percent of Catholic school teachers are lay people. And they have bills to pay.

Public schools – themselves worried about an impending teacher shortage – have been raising salaries steadily. Catholic schools haven’t been able to keep up.

“Ten years ago, I had so many applications coming in that I’d be near tears because I couldn’t get them into the database fast enough,” said Alice Terrill, who recruits teachers for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. “We had many, many more applications than we had jobs.”

Now, she struggles to replace the nearly 200 teachers the diocese loses each year, most to better-paying jobs elsewhere.

Local Catholic schools determine their own salaries, but the Dallas Diocese sets a minimum starting salary of $24,500 annually. In the Diocese of Fort Worth, the annual minimum is $20,000. Most area schools offer the minimum or a few thousand dollars more.

Compare that with area public schools, which offer some of the highest teacher salaries in the state. Dallas schools, for instance, start at $33,000 a year. In Irving, it’s $35,075. With bonuses available for bilingual teachers or those working in hard-to-fill subject areas, starting salaries can reach $40,000 annually in some districts.

“We’ve been raising salaries 5 percent a year,” said Charles LeBlanc, director of Catholic schools for the Dallas Diocese. “But if public schools go up 7 percent a year, we just fall farther behind.”

Sally Tamulewicz, who taught in Dallas-area Catholic schools for 17 years, is starting her fifth year at Stewart’s Creek Elementary School in The Colony. “I’d absolutely be in a Catholic school now if it wasn’t for the money,” she said. “I liked just about everything else about the job.”

Efforts to improve the lot of public school teachers make Catholic schools’ job that much harder. For instance, when the Legislature recently voted to help public school teachers pay for health insurance, Ms. Terrill was less than overjoyed. The fact that her diocese paid the full cost of health and dental insurance was one of the few financial selling points it could offer.

Although no school in the Dallas Diocese started the year with an empty classroom, diocesan officials acknowledged the job of recruitment is getting tougher each year. The diocese is already planning to have a job fair of its own – its first ever – in the spring.

The Fort Worth Diocese had its first earlier this year.

Unlike many private schools, Catholic schools in America have long been designed to parallel the public system. They’re organized similarly, with superintendents and boundary lines, and their student populations are generally more economically diverse than other private schools.

Other private schools are often in a better position to keep up with public school salary increases. Because they serve a generally wealthier student population, they can raise tuition more readily than the Catholic system.

“We would love to be competitive with public education,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “But knowing where the bulk of our dollars come from, we can’t price ourselves out of the market.”

For some teachers, salary doesn’t matter. It’s as much a calling as a career.

“I was willing to sacrifice the pay to be in the kind of environment I’m in,” said Jennifer Kramer, who teaches fifth grade at Holy Family Catholic School in Fort Worth.

But the number of teachers with an unwavering commitment to Catholic education is not what it used to be. Once, a steady supply of nuns, Jesuits and others filled Catholic classrooms.

But their numbers have been declining steadily since the 1960s. Now, 91 percent of Catholic-school teachers are lay teachers, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Only five of the 40 schools in the Dallas Diocese are headed by a priest or nun.

The cost of employing a lay Catholic teaching corps isn’t much higher than the cost of a previous generation’s nuns. While lay teachers require much higher salaries than nuns, nuns had their rooms, board and other costs paid for by local churches.

But what lay teachers have done to Catholic education is force diocesan officials to compete for their services. One way schools have adjusted: They rely heavily on non-Catholic teachers. Ms. Terrill estimates that more than a quarter of the Dallas Diocese’s teachers are not Catholic.

“We’ve got Jewish teachers, Buddhist teachers – as long as they agree that if a child asks a question, they’ll answer it in accordance with Catholic doctrine,” she said.

Britney Whitehead, who teaches first grade at St. Rita Catholic School in Dallas, is Christian, but not Catholic.

“Everybody’s been so welcoming that it’s not a big issue,” she said. When it comes time to teach religion, she swaps classrooms with another teacher who is Catholic.

“Most of us are products of the Catholic system, and we want to teach there,” said Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, a Philadelphia-based teachers union that has found some success organizing Catholic school teachers.

“But you can only take so much on faith. My fear is that Catholic teachers teach for a few years, work the kinks out of their teaching, then they go off to public schools for real money. We’re the training ground.”

Catholic schools are trying to determine how best to navigate the problems. Several national groups have started programs offering college graduates a tuition-free master’s degree in exchange for a commitment to teach for two years in a Catholic school. Seven such teachers currently work in the Dallas Diocese.

Officials in the Diocese of Cleveland are promoting Future Catholic Teacher Clubs to promote interest in the profession.

“We were really asking ourselves, ‘Who will succeed us?'” said Catherine Collins, who is leading the diocese’s effort.

And Catholic schools are hoping their lower certification requirements will make them more appealing to midcareer professionals looking for a new line of work. “We’re getting a lot of people – men as much as women – who say, ‘I’ve always wanted to teach. Life is short. Money isn’t everything,'” Ms. Terrill said.

Failure of Soviets can teach America: Q&A with David Lesch

Sunday, September 23, 2001
Page 1J

Failure of Soviets can teach America
Q&A with David Lesch

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

When historian David Lesch’s new book was published in July, he had no idea the events he described would echo so quickly in the halls of American government. The book, 1979: The Year That Shaped the Modern Middle East, details the last time a superpower threatened Afghanistan: that year’s Soviet invasion.

In a telephone interview Wednesday with Dallas Morning News staff writer Joshua Benton, Dr. Lesch, a professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio and a consultant to the State Department, discussed what lessons the failed Soviet invasion can have for those planning a potential American attack.

Here are excerpts:

Question: Why did the Soviets invade in 1979?

Answer: There had been instability in Afghanistan since 1973, when there was a coup that may have been supported by the Soviet Union. That regime turned out to be a bit more independently minded than the Soviets had hoped, so they supported another coup in 1978 that brought a triumvirate of Afghani Marxist leaders to power.

But trying to impose Communist reform on the country was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This was a pre-industrial, traditional, feudal-type society, and they were trying to make it into a Marxist country. That transition just doesn’t happen without a country going through a capitalist phase first, and even then it doesn’t work.

So, when there were uprisings against that government, the Soviets invaded, with 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

Question: What makes warfare in Afghanistan so difficult?

Answer: The country is almost immune to centralization. Geographically, it’s very mountainous, and it’s really a tribal-based society.

The transportation system isn’t very good. To get places, you have to use dirt roads, pack mules, animal transportation. And the mountains provide cover for rebels, as they have going back centuries. There are no real major navigable rivers to unite the country.

They say that no one has controlled the Afghan countryside since Alexander the Great, and the Soviets didn’t do any better.

Question: If Afghanistan was so difficult to control, why did the Soviets feel threatened by it?

Answer: The Soviet Union had always had a defensive paranoia about countries on its borders. That’s why they created the buffer of friendly states, the Warsaw Pact, in Eastern Europe.

In 1979, you had Afghanistan being unstable, you had the Iranian revolution, you had the U.S. taking a greater interest in the region because of the Iranian hostage situation, and you had the U.S. and China opening up formal diplomatic relations for the first time.

So the Soviet Union was seeing the noose tighten around its neck. And they worried that an Islamist takeover in Afghanistan could inspire similar movements in the neighboring Soviet republics. In the Kremlin’s view, Afghanistan could not be lost.

They also saw the relative passivity and weakness the Carter administration showed in responding to the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. They saw we didn’t react in a strong way, so they figured they didn’t really have much to lose from invading.

Question: The Soviets were stuck in Afghanistan for a decade before withdrawing without victory in 1989. Had they not expected such a difficult war?

Answer: They basically had the same experience we had in Vietnam. They thought they would have more support from the Afghan army than they did. They underestimated the fighting capabilities of the Afghan public.

It also was a major turning point in 1986, when the U.S. started giving the Mujahadeen Stinger missiles. In a four-month period, 512 Soviet aircraft were shot down with Stingers. That was a drastic, drastic change.

Question: How direct of a line can be drawn between the loss in Afghanistan and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union?

Answer: It’s absolutely directly related. You could say it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It put a tremendous strain on the Soviet economy, which was already in bad shape. It really led to the decision of Gorbachev to retreat in foreign affairs, to say, “I can’t maintain the level of defense spending and global
engagement to keep up the Cold War, so I’m just going to end the Cold War.”

Question: What kind of country did the Soviets leave behind?

Answer: They left behind a puppet regime, like we did in South Vietnam, that fell quickly to the opposition. A coalition of Islamist groups took control, and there were a couple of regime changes within that coalition, then coups and countercoups. And arising out of that frenetic mix was the Taliban, which took control of Kabul in 1996.

The Taliban was basically made up of students in the madrasas, the religious schools along the border with Pakistan. They had been influenced by a radical Sunni Muslim set of beliefs called Deobandism, which grew out of India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in opposition to the British presence there. The Taliban made it much more extreme in terms of strictly applying Islamic

It’s virulently anti-West, which seemed to take root among these students. They’ve actually had more success than previous rulers in controlling the country. There certainly are plenty of Afghans who are not 100 percent in support of the Taliban, but conditions had reached a point that things were so chaotic that people were willing to accept any group that could restore some sort of stability.

Question: What role has Pakistan historically played in our relations with Afghanistan?

Answer: The U.S. was downgrading relations in Pakistan in 1979, because we didn’t like General Zia al-Haq, who had come to power in a coup, and because they refused to state categorically that they were not interested in building a nuclear capability. But when the Soviets invaded, we were made strange bedfellows by our common interest in opposing the Soviets.

Zia al-Haq was interested in bringing Islamist parties into the regime, and that’s a presence that’s continued since. These very radical Islamist groups have a big say in Pakistani military policy. Deobandism is very popular in the military and the intelligence system there.

When the Taliban came to power, Pakistan recognized them. From Pakistan’s viewpoint, Afghanistan can be a valuable ally against India. They see the Taliban as supportive of their position in Kashmir. And as the Taliban attempts to export its views to other Central Asian countries, the “Talibanization” of the region, Pakistan sees an opportunity to have greater influence over other neighboring countries.

It’s an extremely complicated situation. If Pervez Musharraf is overthrown or pressured to take a particular position, they could threaten India – and then you’ve got two nuclear powers facing off. And China is a big supporter of Pakistan, so you could be talking about a domino effect.

Question: What lessons can the U.S. take from the Soviets’ failed invasion?

Answer: Well, the American objectives are going to be much more limited than the Soviets’ were. The Soviets wanted to control a regime and control a country. That’s something the U.S. doesn’t seem to be interested in; we’re not interested in controlling the country. So a lot of the difficulties the Soviets had won’t be as significant to the United States.

But I say that with great qualification: I don’t think anything we do is going to be easy.

Question: Do you think the Taliban can be persuaded to turn over Osama bin Laden?

Answer: There is some division in the Taliban between the more ideological and the more moderate – maybe “practical” is a better word than “moderate.” There are probably some people who would be willing to turn bin Laden over, perhaps to a third country. But remember that Osama bin Laden contributes $50 million to $100 million a year to the Taliban. And from their viewpoint, they’ve defeated a superpower before.

They don’t have much to lose. Their country is in tatters. They feel they can ride this out somehow and come out of it more popular than ever in the end.

But even if we do get Osama, there are other groups out there. I’m sure he’s made plans for the continuance of his organization after he leaves the scene. If the U.S. is to be successful, there needs to be an initiative over a long period of time.

Asking for help to keep kids in school; district appeals to companies to allow time for mentoring

Thursday, September 20, 2001
Page 26A

Asking for help to keep kids in school
District appeals to companies to allow time for mentoring

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Fixing the Dallas schools isn’t just a job for teachers, principals and parents. District leaders are making it a job for the general public, as well.

Dallas Superintendent Mike Moses announced a major new initiative Wednesday, asking adults to give one hour a week to mentor at-risk children.

“Most of these children have not had adults to model themselves on,” said Rene Martinez, the district’s director of youth mentoring. “And for many, the mentors they have had have not exactly been positive ones.”

The schools also are asking area companies to give their employees time off to mentor.

The program targets the ninth grade – the year that gives students the most trouble. In Dallas, 34.9 percent of 14,000 freshmen end up repeating the grade. The next-highest retention rate occurs in 10th grade, which only 16 percent have to repeat.

“It’s at the ninth grade where we are literally hemorrhaging,” Mr. Martinez said. “We have a very high dropout rate and a very low graduation rate, and a lot of it starts right there.”

Officials aim to match 1,000 mentors to students by the end of the school year. So far, about 15 companies and organizations have committed to provide about 100 mentors.

Mentoring programs are considered one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from dropping out of school. District officials say about one-third of students drop out before graduation.

The Dallas program is being coordinated through Big Brothers Big Sisters, which says its programs have been shown to have positive effects on academic performance. Only 6 percent of children in its current school-based mentoring program are held back each year, and 84 percent go on to graduate or get a GED.

“Most adults can point to someone in their lives who served as their mentor,” said Rob Alberts, executive director of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters group. “A lot of these kids don’t have access to that kind of role model.”

Adults interested in being a mentor will have to fill out an application and be subject to a criminal background check. If all is clear, they’ll undergo a 90-minute training session and be matched with a student. After that, the adult and student will agree on a time to meet for at least one hour a week.

What form the relationship will take from that point on will be largely decided by the mentor and student. It could involve setting goals, help with academic plans, or talking about family issues.

Mentors in similar Big Brothers Big Sisters programs say the experience is at least as rewarding for adults as for children. “It’s impossible to do something like this and not want to keep doing it,” said Jeff Waldt, a division vice president at Wyndham Hotels who mentors a sixth-grader. “It’s much less effort and much more reward than I’d ever thought.”

“We talk about how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and if I have little problems,” said Katty Lira, a third-grader at Edison Hernandez Academy who has a Big Sister. “And she gave me balloons on my birthday.”

Since he became superintendent in January, Dr. Moses has spoken regularly to business and community groups, attempting to improve a sometimes-shaky relationship and emphasizing their role in turning the schools around. He will be making another pitch Tuesday before the Dallas Citizens Council.

“If we can get 10 percent of those people to get involved, I’ll be very happy,” Mr. Martinez said. “When someone says ‘I want to help,’ we’ll be there to say, ‘Here’s where you sign up.'”

The program’s success will rest in large part on the cooperation of local businesses. Officials hope businesses will be willing to let employees take a weekly hour-long break to make mentoring possible.

“Our employees tell us they appreciate the time and that they might not do it otherwise,” said Frank Bracken, president and CEO of Haggar Clothing, which gives its employees company time to mentor.

Patriotic ribbons not on the menu

Thursday, September 20, 2001
Page 25A

Patriotic ribbons not on the menu

Rules are rules. A policy at Snuffer’s restaurants prohibits employees from adorning their uniforms with anything – even red, white and blue ribbons. That rubbed some cheese-fries connoisseurs the wrong way.

Dozens of patrons demanded an explanation. “We’ve gotten e-mails saying ‘Snuffer’s supports bin Laden,'” said owner Pat Snuffer, a Vietnam veteran. “It’s been very hurtful.”

His account: He does not want employees wearing “ragged, dog-eared ribbons.”

“It’s my business, and that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.

As a patriotic gesture, though, Mr. Snuffer plans to have small American flags embroidered onto employee aprons.

–Joshua Benton

Prayer, solace, patriotism in NY; Crowds find refuge at houses of worship across city, nation

Monday, September 17, 2001
Page 8A

Prayer, solace, patriotism in NY
Crowds find refuge at houses of worship across city, nation

From Staff Reports

NEW YORK – Only 17 of the 56 regular parishioners at John Street United Methodist Church made it to Sunday’s services.

Some of the missing were probably held up by policemen trying to keep people out of southern Manhattan. Others were forever lost in the World Trade Center’s wreckage, just three blocks away.

The church was the closest to the disaster to hold regular services Sunday. Soloist John Easterlin sang a hymn he had chosen a day before the terror began:

Lord make me an instrument of thy peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; … Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.

“God chose this song for this Sunday, even before this war started,” Mr. Easterlin said. “It’s eerie that it’s so appropriate. I didn’t practice it because I didn’t know if I could get through it twice.”

Without electricity, the wooden church was lighted by handheld candles. Soot blanketed its roof and flew inside whenever a door opened. Armed National Guardsmen in gas masks patrolled the area. Toxic fumes from a nearby blown generator lingered.

Outside, war was everywhere. But inside, there was only peace.

Across New York and the nation, churches served record crowds Sunday. Some were regular worshipers seeking solace. For others, going to church was an unusual event spurred by unusual circumstances.

“It’s the first time in seven years,” said Roger Pacheco, who said he attended Mass at Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral because it is a symbol of New York. His 26-year-old cousin, Roland Pacheco, is among the missing.

With volunteers being turned away by some relief agencies, which say they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of help and supplies, some New Yorkers felt powerless to help in any but a spiritual way.

“We can’t do anything down there,” explained Natalie Parra, 25, also at St. Patrick’s. “So we figured we could pray.”

“This country needs to pray and come together at a time like this,” said Lily Ling, a 32-year-old who attended the John Street services. “It was hard to get here, but even a tragedy like this won’t stop me from going to church.”

At Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III gave a spirited and eloquent sermon, urging 3,000 worshipers to turn to God to manage their fear. A large choir stood behind the pastor, swaying and harmonizing while singing, “The Lord is my strength; whom shall I fear?”

Dr. Butts pointed to the hundreds of firefighters killed at the Trade Center as examples to follow.

“The firemen did not let fear paralyze them,” he said. “The firemen learned to manage their fear to save the lives of their sisters and brothers. Perfect love for humanity cast away their fear. The greatest monument we can give to them is for us to overcome our fear.”

He asked for those in the gallery to call out the names of their missing friends or loved ones, and several did so. Dr. Butts ended the sermon by asking the gallery to join choir members’ voices in a rousing, fast-tempo version of “This Little Light of Mine.”

“In this dark world, we need to have some light shining right now,” he said.

At the Islamic Cultural Center of New York on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Imam Mohammad Gemeaha reminded worshipers that under Islamic law, it is always wrong to take innocent lives.

“My message was that our religion is a religion of peace, a religion of mercy,” Imam Gemeaha told reporters after the service. “We pray to God to show his mercy and to accept all of the victims into paradise.”

But Muhammad Abulmalik, an imam from Brooklyn who delivered a guest sermon Sunday, criticized military and political leaders and said that U.S. policies toward the Middle East had caused deaths around the world.

At St. Patrick’s, decorated with purple and black funeral bunting, Masses attracted huge crowds throughout the day. Speakers were set up outside so those who couldn’t get in could hear an afternoon Mass delivered by Cardinal Edward Egan, New York’s archbishop.

“In the last week, we have truly seen and experienced the presence of evil in the world,” the Rev. Dominick Dellaporte said at St. Patrick’s. “And we have seen the presence of God in the world.”

St. Patrick’s rector, Monsignor Eugene Clark, urged members of the congregation to attend the thousands of funerals expected around the city. “When we extend our condolences, it accomplishes a great deal,” Monsignor Clark said. “We mustn’t underestimate the value in that.”

Spc. Anthony Philip, an Army National Guardsman dressed in black boots and stiff camouflage, sought solace from the 12-hour shifts he has been working at ground zero since Tuesday.

“I told my sergeant I needed some time to meditate,” Spc. Philip said. “I needed some time to pray for all the victims.”

Staff writers Holly Becka, Terri Langford, Christopher Lee and Juliet Macur in New York and staff writer Joshua Benton in Dallas contributed to this report.

Teens come together for tolerance; Different backgrounds needn’t divide, they demonstrate

Saturday, September 15, 2001
Page 28A

Teens come together for tolerance
Different backgrounds needn’t divide, they demonstrate

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

When the man on the street asked whether he was a Muslim, Mohamed Maye knew to lie.

“I’m an atheist,” he said, then walked away.

Mohamed, 14, didn’t tell his parents about the man he met walking home from North Dallas High School. He feared that they’d make him stay home from school – the place he felt safest.

“At school, everybody gets along,” he said. “It’s, ‘If you’re Muslim, so what? You’re not the one who did it.'”

Mohamed and a group of North Dallas High School students gathered Friday morning in Thanks-Giving Square to offer themselves as an example to the rest of the world: They come from different countries, different faiths and different backgrounds, but they manage to get along.

“It’s only immature people who would get divided by something like this,” he said.

North Dallas High has students from 32 countries, a number that grew by one Thursday with the enrollment of two students from Afghanistan. The school has been honored for its international focus by the Texas Senate and the U.S. Congress. Many of its students come from lands broken by war, and they’ve experienced hatred up close.

“Our students know what it’s like to be discriminated against, and they know what it can do to people,” said principal Lynn Dehart. He estimated there are more than a dozen Muslim students enrolled and many Arab-Americans.

Mohamed first heard of Tuesday’s attacks in gym class. A teacher accidentally turned off a CD player and flipped on a radio that was broadcasting news of the World Trade Center. At first, Mohamed assumed it was a hoax, a ploy by the station to rile up listeners, like the time a DJ said Britney Spears was dead. But a few moments later, he realized it was real.

“I didn’t feel secure anymore,” he said.

Mohamed grew up in Somalia, a country ripped apart in the last decade by rival warlords to the extent that it has no functioning government.

“I came to America to get away from trouble,” he said. “I didn’t think something like that could happen here.”

His parents picked him up from school early Tuesday for a family meeting.

They told him not to tell anyone he was Muslim; they feared that he’d be made a target by people bent on revenge. But at school, he hasn’t felt threatened at all, he said. Others shared his experience.

Sophomore Sabina Celebic came to Dallas from Bosnia a year and a half ago. She saw the attacks unfold from a doctor’s office Tuesday. “Everything that had happened in Bosnia came back to my mind,” she said.

While her blond hair and European features help her avoid some stereotyping, she is also Muslim. She said there’s been no tension among students. “We all hang out together just like we did before,” she said.

At the event downtown Friday, student leaders gave speeches about the importance of tolerance. Several dozen students joined hands in a circle around the square, some closing their eyes and bowing their heads while John Lennon’s “Imagine” played.

“I’ve heard a lot of negative attitudes, but only from adults,” said Yonas Fesseha, a junior whose family is from Eritrea.

Children discover lessons amid tragedy; Week’s events give way to discussions in the classroom

Friday, September 14, 2001
Page 21A

Children discover lessons amid tragedy
Week’s events give way to discussions in the classroom

By Dan R. Barber and Katie Menzer
Staff Writers

The attack on America has come to the classroom.

In planned and unplanned lessons, teachers and students have used the week’s events as a way of learning.

For some it was geography, for others letter writing. Many just learned about the give and take of emotional discussions.

At his desk in Spring Creek Academy, a private school in Plano, Jared Ostrov was puzzled.

The 12-year-old and his classmates opened their seventh-grade world history books to Thursday’s lesson on Germany and war, what it meant more than 60 years ago. And what it means today.

“I heard they declared war on a country,” Jared said. “But my question is, who are we at war with?”

An unknown enemy’s attack Tuesday, sending two commercial passenger airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth into a Pennsylvania field, has become part of the curriculum in public and private school classrooms in the area.

A blunt, sobering exchange between Jared and another student Thursday echoed conversations nationwide.

“If you go over and start bombing people, innocent people will die,” said Allison Taylor, 13, as the history class discussed how war would change lives.

“They started it,” Jared replied.

At Meadows Intermediate School in DeSoto, students reviewed the attacks during social studies and reading and language arts classes.

Kitty Hickerson, Meadows’ principal, said the students used maps to locate New York; Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh; Britain; Pakistan; and Afghanistan.

The tragedy is also helping students learn how to write letters, Mrs. Hickerson said. They will write condolences to President Bush and to New York police officers and firefighters, she said. Most of the letters expressed fear about the possibility of war, she said.

One child suggested that the president hide inside the Statue of Liberty because it is the “safest place in America,” Mrs. Hickerson said.

Chuck Corona, principal of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, said students there have talked constantly about the tragedy, but social studies class seemed to be where it was most often used as part of the curriculum.

“They have used it in the classroom to talk about things and ease everybody’s minds, and that was appropriate,” Mr. Corona said. “They handled it very maturely and asked the right questions. I’m proud of them.”

At Lamar High School in Arlington, the students in Barry Wilmoth’s U.S. history class did more than talk about history. They watched it unfold on television.

“I’ve tried to work this into the lesson plans and answer any questions they have,” he said. “When we talk about World War I, World War II or Pearl Harbor, they’ll understand how people felt.”

John Ashton, who teaches English and humanities to sixth-graders and juniors at St. Mark’s School of Texas in North Dallas, said classes normally spent on novels were turned into discussions.

“It was, ‘Put your books away, let’s talk,'” Mr. Ashton said. “There’s a sense in the classroom that, from the start of class to the end, this pressure valve has been released a bit.”

Mr. Ashton said the events affected the age groups differently.

“The older boys have come in willing to talk about the emotional side,” he said. “The sixth-graders want the facts, the specifics of how these things could have happened. They want to solve it.”

The attacks left two other students at Spring Creek Academy wondering what their families might be thinking.

Seniors Hanh Truong and Ha Nguyen, 17-year-old exchange students from Vietnam, spent part of the day Tuesday using the school’s computer to contact home. Their parents did not know how far Dallas was from New York, they said, and family members were worried for their safety.

Although the girls said they were deeply saddened by the events. Neither was surprised at the terrorism.

“Everything can happen in America,” Hanh said.

Staff writers Toya Lynn Stewart, Joshua Benton, Kristine Hughes and
Michael Tate contributed to this report.

Back to work, not back to normal; With heavy hearts, area residents trying to return to routine

Thursday, September 13, 2001
Page 6A

Back to work, not back to normal
With heavy hearts, area residents trying to return to routine

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

John Jackson rose before the sun Wednesday, looking for calm waters.

He found them at his usual fishing spot on White Rock Lake. But they couldn’t provide all the solace he sought.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said the 74-year-old World War II veteran, who had been awake since 1 a.m. “I couldn’t stop thinking about all those innocent people. It’s so terrible.”

A day after the terror in New York and Washington, much of North Texas reacted as Mr. Jackson did. People tried to go about a normal day’s business.

Students returned to school. Downtown buildings reopened. Friday night football was back on schedule.

But it was clear that life had changed, almost imperceptibly, perhaps irrevocably. Children struggled to understand why so many people were dead, and parents searched for the right words.

Some workers stayed home, and others were evacuated after false bomb threats.

People returned to their routines, but they didn’t return to normal.

“I’m still not believing it,” said Bill Spear, a businessman who attended Mass on Wednesday afternoon at St. Jude’s Chapel downtown.

He went home to pick up his whole family so he could be with them.

“I just wanted them down here so we could all try and gain a little peace,” he said.

The number of people attending Mass and confession at St. Jude’s was triple the usual number. Men and women shook and sobbed uncontrollably.

Workers in downtown skyscrapers in Dallas and Fort Worth felt among the most threatened after the World Trade Center towers were toppled. But for the most part, they arrived at work Wednesday morning wary but ready to resume their lives.

“It’s very quiet,” said Jim Kirke, who works on the 23rd floor of Bank of America Plaza in downtown Dallas and was among those evacuated Tuesday morning as a precaution.

“It doesn’t seem real. It’s like something that you see in the movies, but in the movies people get up and walk away. In real life, a lot of people don’t get up and walk away.”

Scattered police presence Wednesday didn’t go unnoticed by passers-by and workers.

In Dallas, officers were posted outside the entrances to high-rises downtown and all government offices. They evacuated Lincoln Plaza, First Baptist Academy and the YMCA at midday after receiving reports that a suspicious package was left inside a vehicle on Akard Street.

Power was cut to Lincoln Plaza during the evacuation, temporarily stranding three people in an elevator, officials said. The package was eventually found to contain small gifts that a group of men had planned to sell at area hotels, police said.

In Fort Worth, a bomb threat shortly after 9 a.m. forced evacuations of three Tarrant County court buildings. After barricading several streets and moving employees several blocks away, the threat was determined to be a hoax. Workers returned to the buildings about 10:15 a.m.

“I think we handled it a little differently because of what has happened this week,” said Lt. Kent Worley, a spokesman for the Fire Department. “Our response was a little heightened, and I think the public expects that.”

Others reacted in small but noticeable ways.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth resumed printing money Wednesday but canceled public tours. Officials said they wanted to minimize the number of nonemployees in the building.

Area schools generally reported normal attendance. Dallas schools are required to alert district officials when daily attendance falls below 90 percent, and none did Wednesday, officials said.

High school sports teams returned to their routines, a day after most games and many practices were canceled. Some volleyball teams played the matches that were postponed Tuesday.

At The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, many visitors found some comfort drawing parallels between the terrorist attack and the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

“People are coming here to deal with their own grief, to remember how resilient our country was after another tragedy,” said Jeff West, the museum’s executive director.

Museum visitors record their ruminations in “memory books” at the end of their visit, and several wrote about trying to adjust after Tuesday’s tragedies.

One tourist wrote about watching the shocking news reports: “Finally, I had to leave the hotel room – try to forget one tragedy by learning the history of another. I’m still numb.”

Some area residents said it was important that the terrorist attacks not be allowed to disrupt events in their lives.

Laura Keith and Sean Weigler long ago scheduled their wedding for Saturday. And though federal restrictions on travel have caused some difficulties, they plan to go ahead with the ceremony.

“It’s hard to know how to feel,” said Ms. Keith, 26, who works for Southwest Airlines. “It’s a tragedy and you’re grieving, but it’s also supposed to be the happiest time of your life.”

She’s concentrating on getting the pastor, two groomsmen and her maid of honor to town from various points in the country.

“At one level, you feel selfish, but canceling the wedding would just let the terrorists win on another level,” she said.

Others, from ministers and rabbis to grocery store clerks, found relief in trying to help people deal with the sense of loss.

Carolyn Thompson manages the bakery at an Albertson’s on McKinney Avenue. She said she has been doing her best to raise customers’ spirits.

“I’ve asked everybody who comes by how they’re doing, and some of them want to talk,” she said.

“One woman didn’t say anything for a moment, then said, ‘I’m very upset. I’m really down.’ Then she kept on shopping.”

Staff writers Laura Heinauer, Connie Piloto, Linda Stewart Ball, Nancy Calaway, Dan R. Barber, Rachel Cohen and Chuck Carlton contributed to this report.

District to teachers: All hands on tech; Northwest to freeze pay if educators don’t meet computer standards

Saturday, September 8, 2001
Page 1A

District to teachers: All hands on tech
Northwest to freeze pay if educators don’t meet computer standards

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Students in the Northwest Independent School District soon won’t be the only ones taking a high-stakes test.

The district’s 400 teachers will be required to master a lengthy list of computer skills, from how to surf the Web to how to build a spreadsheet. And in a move that might be the first of its kind in the country, teachers’ salaries will be frozen if they don’t meet the standards.

“We felt if we had a salary freeze, that would make it clear to everyone how beneficial it would be to comply with the standards,” said Kim Nelson, a sixth-grade teacher at Samuel Beck Intermediate School and chair of the committee that created the policy.

“It definitely caught everybody’s attention.”

Teachers have plenty of time to gain the skills they need; the salary freeze won’t kick in for five more years. But the policy shows how seriously schools are taking the issue of technology.

“We’re all professionals, and professional development is part of any career,” said Sunnye Murdock, executive director for technology for the district, which is in Tarrant, Denton and Wise counties.

The district has defined four levels of computer knowledge, from the most basic – knowing how to send e-mail, for instance – to advanced photo editing and database structuring. Teachers will be required to demonstrate they have mastered all knowledge up to Level 3, including creating Web pages and using scanners.

They will show their abilities by completing a series of tasks, such as creating a lesson plan that uses a certain technology in the classroom or using an online gradebook. Teachers will be trained for whatever skills they lack.

They’ll have five years – starting this fall for current teachers or from the date of hire for future teachers – to master the skills and reach Level 3. If they do, they will become eligible for additional classroom technology tools, like software or a new printer. But if they don’t, their salaries will not increase.

“We feel teachers are going to need these skills for our students to get the best possible education,” Dr. Murdock said.

The district also plans to create similar technology skill requirements for other employees, such as librarians, administrators and school nurses.

The standards-based plan for teachers, approved at last month’s board meeting, replaces a rule that required 12 hours of technology training each year for most teachers and 24 hours for first-year teachers.

As technology spending has become a large part of every school’s budget, studies have shown that many teachers are frustrated by their lack of training and inability to use the tools before them.

District officials said the move was prompted in part by the large role technology use has in the state’s curriculum standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The standards, which are still being integrated by many districts, include computer-related tasks for nearly every grade level.

“If students are going to be expected to master these skills, then certainly teachers should be able to master them as well,” Dr. Murdock said.

Most teachers have reacted positively to the district’s plan, Dr. Murdock said. She estimated that about 30 percent of them could be at Level 3 or better right now.

But Mrs. Nelson acknowledged that not all are excited at the threat of a salary freeze. “Some of them have said, ‘If they give us five years, I’ve guess I’ve got five years to retire,’ ” she said. “I don’t think we will lose a lot of teachers, but some might give serious thought to retirement.”

Mrs. Nelson, who is 49, said “computers are a scary thing to me.”

“I’ve had 99 hours of [technology] training, and I’m still uncomfortable using the knowledge I’ve been given in the classroom,” she said. “But the fact that I’m willing to commit to this should say something.”

Jim Hirsch, board chairman of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking and Plano’s assistant superintendent for technology, said he had not heard of a plan like Northwest’s in any other district in the country.

Ron Cravey, executive director of the Texas Computer Education Association, said he didn’t know of any similar ties between salary and technology skills in Texas. “I’m not endorsing their particular method, but anytime we’re trying to increase the use of technology in education, it’s a good thing,” he said.

But he pointed out that eventually computers will become so integrated into classroom life that programs like Northwest’s will seem like relics of the past.

“We don’t have staff development for using the overhead projector or the VCR anymore,” he said. “It’s just assumed that teachers will be able to use those tools, and someday the same will be true of this technology.”

For some, Net puts library on shelf; Students prefer Web for academic research, new Pew survey shows

Tuesday, September 4, 2001
Page 1A

For some, Net puts library on shelf
Students prefer Web for academic research, new Pew survey shows

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

It was while listening to a longish church sermon one Sunday in 1876 that librarian Melvil Dewey had his moment of genius. “I jumpt in my seat and came near shouting ‘Eureka!'” he wrote later, marveling at the “absolute simplicity” of his idea.

But for many of today’s teenagers, the Dewey Decimal System sits squarely in the ash bin of history, right next to the Victrola and the Model T. Libraries, once the great storehouses of academic knowledge, are coming in second to search engines.

The extent of children’s reliance on the Internet for research was one of the findings of a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The study gives a hint at how quickly – and pervasively – the Internet has been integrated into the way children learn.

Seventy-three percent of the 12- to 17-year-olds who were interviewed said they used the Internet. And of the 754 Internet users surveyed, 94 percent said they had used it for academic research.

The Pew survey asked students which they had used more in researching their most recent major school project: the Internet or school and local libraries. Seven in 10 said the Internet.

“You can find stuff about basically anything on the Internet,” said Brittany Pittman, a sophomore at Marcus High School in Flower Mound who used the Internet for a paper on Princess Diana last year. “It’s so much easier than finding something in the library.”

Linda Thiebaud, librarian at Flower Mound High School, said the Internet was a good complement to books but would never replace them. One reason, she said: A power outage or software error can’t make a book unusable.

“The Internet can provide a lot of things our books can’t,” Ms. Thiebaud said. “But I still think our books are here to stay.”

Spurred by students’ use, teachers are making the Internet an essential part of many classes. Seventeen percent of students surveyed said they had created a Web page for a class assignment, and 58 percent said that they had used Web sites created specifically for their school or class.

Susan Wrenn, a Spanish teacher at Marcus High, uses a Web site to drill students on verbs and adjectives. “As soon as they finish taking a quiz, they find out how they did and what they got wrong,” she said. “They can see immediately where they need more work.”

Students in Coppell middle schools are getting their language arts textbooks online for the first time this fall. They’ve received the standard print volumes as well, but they’re being encouraged to access the materials online, where they can also complete homework and take tests.

“The kids are so excited,” said Laurel Kron, a seventh-grade teacher at Coppell Middle School West. Technical difficulties are holding up parts of the online system, but “they’re asking me all the time when it’ll be ready,” she said. “I think … [language arts homework] will be the first homework that gets done at night, because it’s cool and new to do it online.”

But the study found that the Internet has proved to be more than a source of static information. It has taken on the role of school hangout – a place for students to talk among themselves. More than 40 percent of those surveyed said they had used e-mail or instant messaging to communicate with teachers or fellow students about schoolwork.

For teachers, e-mail is a new gateway to communicate with students and parents. Educators once accustomed to giving out their home phone numbers on the first day of class now routinely hand out an e-mail address.

“I tell my kids that if they e-mail me before 9:30 [p.m.], I’ll guarantee them a response that night,” said Matt Cone, a history and government teacher at Plano Senior High School.

Of course, the myriad possibilities of online learning come with corresponding dangers.

Nearly one in five students surveyed knew of someone who had used the Internet to cheat on a paper or test. Web sites offering term papers and research for a fee make cheating tantalizingly easy.

“I’m not naive enough to think there aren’t answers being shared inappropriately out there,” said Kristen Moitz, assistant principal at Lamar Middle School in Flower Mound.

Mr. Cone said he had typed phrases from students’ papers into Internet search engines to see if they appeared anywhere online, on a reference page or on someone else’s academic work.

In a few cases, he has sent papers electronically to an online service that does more detailed checking for plagiarism. In a handful of cases, he has caught students red-handed.

“I think kids get spoiled and lose the ability to really track down good information,” Mr. Cone said. “I’ll have a student come in and say, ‘I can’t find any information on my topic.’ I ask where they looked, and they’ve just checked the Web.”

But no matter how pervasive the Internet is for many children, 27 percent of the students surveyed said they don’t use it at all.

Some might be uninterested; others might not have easy access, despite a federal initiative over the last five years to get every school in America wired for technology. Students from wealthier homes are much more likely to have computers.

“Clearly, Internet access is not yet in the places where it’s easy for every student to get at it,” said Lee Rainey, the Pew project’s director. “Whether it’s a logistics issue or something else, not everyone has been able to get online.”