Friday, March 25, 2011

Catholic School Salaries and Pay Scales

In an earlier post, I discussed creative ways to pay Catholic school teachers to secure their services or keep them in the fold, recognizing that often what we can afford to pay is not what area private schools or public schools can offer. Those ways included giving signing bonuses for new teachers, offering low cost rent options using property owned by the Church but no longer used, and offering merit bonuses. I continue to believe each of these is an effective outreach and have used each in my ministry as a Catholic school principal.

Since writing that article, I am now principal of a new school in a new diocese. Unlike my previous diocese, this one does not have a “diocesan pay scale” from which I must pay teachers. Nor does my school’s Board of Trustees dictate a pay scale for our school. Instead, the Board approves a line item in the budget for “salaries” and I have complete freedom within that budget to pay teachers as I see fit, depending on their value to the school and the “market forces” at work for their particular position.

I have found this lack of a prescribed template extremely liberating, and truth be told, in the best interest of the school I serve. In my previous school, I often lost out on the battle for a fine teacher candidate, simply because the salaries I could pay that person paled in comparison to what others were offering. I didn’t go down within a fight, however! I would often “scaffold” his or her salary offer by including a laundry list of non-teaching stipends (coaching, extra-curricular clubs, etc) as a means of approximating market rates. I won some and I lost some. But the truth is, I was waging battle beginning with the self-inflicted wound of a pay scale that worked for some disciplines but not for others.

Let me be specific. Catholic schools have always had the greatest difficulty securing and retaining good science teachers, especially in the physical sciences (Chemistry and Physics). The reasons are simple: What a young graduate in the physical sciences can make in the corporate/business world dwarfs what Catholic school pay scales usually dictate for first year teachers. Depending on the source, the average beginning salary for a person with a B.S. in Physics in the corporate world is between 45K and 60K whereas most Catholic school pay scales currently begin in the high 20’s or low to mid 30’s. And that gap widens as that person gains experience as a scientist! By contrast, when we have an open position in English or History, we are overwhelmed with highly qualified candidates, some with PhD’s, most who are willing to work within the salary scales common to our schools.

Let me guess what some of you may be thinking: Is it just to pay some of our teachers more than others? Are we saying that the cracker-jack English teacher is less deserving of higher wages than teachers in our science department? I’d say “No, the cracker-jack English teacher is not less deserving.” But let me quickly add: If a school has a true maestro teaching English, they’d be wise to compensate that person generously, because they are a rare and great gift to the school! And in a school unconstrained by a pay scale, such maestros can be rapidly rewarded by higher than average increases in salary in successive years of teaching. But I believe it is foolhardy to insist that the beginning teaching salaries for English and Physics teachers should be the same. Once they’re in the fold, without a pay scale to hamstring them, principals can make rational judgments about relative worth and adjust salaries accordingly down the road.

In the world we live in, those with science degrees get paid more than those with degrees in Arts and Letters. As an Arts and Letters guy myself, I was painfully aware of that reality when I decided to major in theology, and reminded of it every time someone asked me “What are you going to do with a theology major, become a priest?”

Insisting on a common pay scale artificially inflates what we need to pay some incoming teachers, or (more commonly) artificially deflates what we should offer others. Abolish pay scales. They don’t help us.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The key to academic achievement

Because I am a high school principal, I am often asked by parents of younger children what kids need to "know" in order to be successful in high school. "What can we work with our kids on now," they ask, "which will make the biggest difference later?"

I often respond "Read to your child, and instill a love of reading in them." There's little doubt that kids who develop good reading skills early in life end up more successful later on. But lately, I've also been talking to parents about an exceptionally important character trait we must help our children develop, too.

In a famous study at Stanford University in 1972, Dr. Walter Michel created a simple test of the ability of four year old children to control impulses and delay gratification. Children were taken one at a time into a room with a one-way mirror. They were shown a marshmallow. The experimenter told them he had to leave and that they could have the marshmallow right then, but if they waited for the experimenter to return from an errand, they could have two marshmallows. One marshmallow was left on a table in front of them. Two out of every three children couldn't wait, and grabbed the available marshmallow before the experimenter returned, some within seconds of person leaving. Approximately one-third waited up to fifteen minutes for the experimenter to return. Here's a simulation of the experiment done more recently, as each kid tries to resist temptation, with some amusing footage:

Funny stuff! But the real bombshell came in the follow up study years later, when interviewers measured how the kids in the original study were doing as students. Those who delayed gratification for the full fifteen minutes scored on average 210 points higher on the SAT tests than those who gave in quickly--an astonishing difference given the length of time between testings. And these same children were judged better able to handle stress and cope with frustration during adolescence. In short, they were happier young adults, with more opportunity in front of them.

As someone who has worked with teenagers the last 26 years, I don't find the conclusions of this study startling. There are marked positives in academic outcomes from students who are able to defer what is more pleasurable and complete the work in front of them. These are the students who begin writing papers earlier than the night before, who do their homework before they watch TV, who fight through boredom in school, who are willing to keep trying new approaches to solve problems and who come to tutorials when they don't understand a concept.

At the same time, the very strong correlation of delaying gratification with academic success as shown by the study--the sheer magnitude in importance of that one variable--is disturbing when one realizes how poorly we live by that principle as a society. The explosive growth of the fast food industry in the last twenty five years, the fact that the average American carries a debt of $8,562 on their credit cards (including undergraduates, without a full time job, who have an average balance of $2,200, not counting their college loans--yikes!), the emphasis on the "instant" (instant food, microwave ovens, video-on-demand, etc.) all suggest we don't delay gratification as adults, much less mentor our children in that skill!

Still, parents can make a big difference. Help them save their money. If you can still find one, the old piggy banks which require breaking the bank to access the money are useful. Force them to do their chores before lounging around the house or leaving the house to play with friends. Make sure homework is done before TV. Talk to them honestly about not being able to afford a new car, or an expensive vacation, so they see that you, too, are not able to do some of what you'd like to do. Help them understand in life, there are no "easy" buttons.

The evidence is in: teaching our children to delay gratification is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Early Spring Potpourri

This is Mr. Weber's talk to students on a variety of subjects on March 14, 2011

First and foremost, congratulations to our theater program for another wonderful musical, Bye Bye Birdie. It was a lot of fun to watch and I found myself laughing out loud through out the play. Macy, I thought you were astoundingly good in your first lead role. Andrew, you were terrific, as usual; you are a real natural on stage. Foster, Maria, Samantha, Andrew, Margaret, Taylor—I really risk getting myself in trouble by beginning to name stand-outs—so let me just say I thought the whole cast was excellent and the combined effect of all these outstanding performances was a very entertaining show. Congratulations, too, to the set and costume designers, both of which were outstanding, and to those students who played in the orchestra. Bravos all around!

Two weeks ago, Mr. Weaver and I visited St. Edmund’s in England and St. Mauritz in Muenster Germany. St. Edmund’s is the school we do the Loughlin exchange with that many of you are familiar with. St. Mauritz is the school we have begun a new exchange with this year, and the school that about 15 of you will be visiting this summer. We’ll have about 22 students from that school visiting us the week before and the week of Easter, so I ask that you make them feel welcome. We met them and their families at the school one night; Martin Schultz, our CYE representative, asked me to talk with them and even to quiz them on American politics. I was pretty impressed of their knowledge about us. Their English is quite good—they begin studying English very early on. They had not heard of Tennessee or Nashville, but they had heard of Taylor Swift!

I am very excited about these expanded opportunities for you to travel and hope that you will take advantage of them. Today was going to be the final deadline for the Honduras mission trip with Ms. Donovan in July, but I am asking that we extend it for two more days until Wednesday, as we do not have enough people currently to make it a “go.” It would be a shame to cancel the trip, so I ask you to talk about this with your parents. There are rare moments in our life when we have the opportunity to do something truly life changing, and if you recall Ms. Donovan’s presentation at assembly a few weeks back, I think this is such an opportunity. Think about it again and talk to your parents! Heck, you can even use this trip to get a jump start on your service hours next year!

We received some pretty exciting news last week. Governor Haslam will be coming to JPII to speak on March 29 at 7 p.m. here in this auditorium. You and your families will be invited. He will be our second lecturer in the "John Paul II Distinguished Lecturer" series. Last year, our inaugural speaker was George Weigel, who wrote the definitive biography on JPII called "Witness to Hope." It is a great honor for a school to have a sitting governor come to a school, and we anticipate a crowd, so we will need for people, including you if you'd like to come, to reserve a ticket by going on line to do so. More information on that will be forthcoming shortly.

As you know, Spring Break is next week, a time for all of us to rest and relax a bit. We’re not very good at relaxing, are we? We fill very minute with activity. But I hope you’ll truly slow yourself down some, get lots of sleep, and enjoy your friends. I pray each spring break for your safety; you may recall last year I talked about the 18 year old Notre Dame recruit from Cincinnati who was drinking and fell from a fifth floor of the hotel to his death. Those of you going to the beaches, please be careful. Girls, be wary of predators and keep your wits about you. There is a clever marketing slogan out there—“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”— as if location makes a difference in what's right or wrong or how we feel about ourselves once we’ve done something we regret. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing. In my past life in Montgomery, which is only 170 miles from the coast, I knew many young ladies that came back from Spring Break, devastated by what they had done under the influence of alcohol.

Last and not least, in the interest of good faculty-student relationships this week, I ask that you make a special effort to stay in uniform. Socks, ties, etc. Believe me when I say that monitoring the way you dress is the least favorite of the faculty’s duties, but do their jobs they must.

May you all have a good week and an excellent spring break.