Friday, July 25, 2014
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A technology teacher's plea: Save Philly's schools

Daniel Ueda teaches physics, for now, at Central High School, but he is best-known to the public as the coach of the school's award-winning robotics team. He says both roles are in jeopardy because of our leaders' failures.

A technology teacher's plea: Save Philly's schools

Daniel Ueda, Central High School
Daniel Ueda, Central High School

Daniel Ueda teaches physics, for now, at Central High School, but he is best-known to the public as the coach of the school's award-winning robotics team. He says both roles are in jeopardy because of our leaders' failures to provide adequate funding to the state's largest school district. He sent me an open letter about the crisis - an overused word that's absolutely appropriate here - and its direct impact on him and his students. It seems worth sharing, and noting, as he does, that similar harm threatens students and teachers throughout the district:

Dear Philadelphia,

The RoboLancers need your help.

There are many stories floating around about how the School District budget problems are going to affect the schools, the students, the community, and the teachers. But there are personal stories in there as well. Stories about good teachers losing their jobs, about students being pushed from a school they love during their senior year, about seniors scared about the college admission process without guidance counselors, about teachers getting pushed into situations they are not best qualified for. Then there is our story.

This story is about how a robotics team of 80 students that has won multiple awards for their outreach, teaching Philadelphia students about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), that has traveled to international competitions, that raised over $30,000 in one week for a championship in St. Louis, that runs the popular Philly Robotics Expo during Philly Tech Week, and that sends 90% of its seniors on to engineering undergraduate programs, may not exist this year.

The reason this team may not exist is directly due to the ineffectiveness of the School District of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission and Governor Corbett. That ineffectiveness has led to the following actions and proposals that is forcing me to consider shutting down our team:

  • I am being asked to take a 13% pay cut.
  • All funding for robotics programs including teachers’ salaries have been cut.
  • The district is seeking the power to move teachers from school to school.
  •  I am being asked to work a longer work day.
  •  We have been left with 1 nurse for 2500 students.
  • All guidance counselors have been laid off, eliminating opportunities for scholarships and making the college application process virtually impossible for my students.
  • I am being asked to switch from Physics to Math, take an additional class, and teach at least three different kinds of classes, all in violation of the current contract and all due to layoffs and budget constraints.
  • I am being asked to sacrifice my preparation periods for school operations.
  • Schools may not open on Sept. 9th.
  • Partial or full union strikes are looming.

As coach of the RoboLancers, I work very, very hard. From January through April, I work 60-70 hours a week at school and then countless hours at home prepping for class, grading papers, and fundraising. During the rest of the year, I routinely work 45-60 hours at school. Yet, the District wishes to mandate I have a longer work day, take a pay cut, and work through my preparation periods.

I work with my team to raise $20,000 every year to pay for our expenses because the School District gives us absolutely no support.

I also work closely with Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania to help inspire students to go into STEM fields. I go through constant professional development to improve my skills in the classroom and to offer as much as I possibly can to my students. Yet, I am disrespected repeatedly by the Mayor and the Governor.

I was not paid for my work with the robotics team last year, just as many club coaches are not paid across the city. I do this work because I care about my city and the kids in it. Yet, Mayor Nutter and Governor Corbett say that I’m not sacrificing enough.

Now, with the decisions the School District, the School Reform Commission, and Governor Corbett have made, doing the work that I do with my students and with the City of Philadelphia may be impossible.

The School Reform Commission has failed this city and its School District. Ten years of failed policies and decisions have led us to this point, a tipping point, and now this great city has to decide.

What kind of school system do you want? Do you want a school system that supports programs like the RoboLancers and experienced teachers who work as hard as I do? Or do you want to undercut our professionals and our kids by moving to a system that underpays inexperienced teachers and sees test results as the ultimate goal?

Philadelphia must take back control of its schools from the state. Pennsylvania is benefitting from the move to a charter system, but Philadelphia is not. Take a look at what is happening in Chicago. That is our future if we don’t put our foot down and say enough is enough.

Please Philadelphia, I want to teach your kids. I want my robotics program to continue thriving. I want my students to keep getting jobs as freshmen in robotics labs at Drexel. I want to help make this a better city to live in. But I need your help. Contact the Mayor, your council person, the Governor, and tell them to support your students, your schools, and your teachers. Tell them to give control of the School District back to the city.

Daniel Ueda, BSME, MST

Physics Teacher and FIRST Robotics Coach

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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