For individuals like Phyllis Stark, teaching is more than a job – it’s a calling. When it comes to answering that call, Stark has truly gone above and beyond: she has amassed over 45 years of teaching experience with Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS). Not only has Stark ensured that students receive a well-rounded education in the classroom, she has also advocated for their teachers by serving as the president of the Michigan City Education Association (MCEA) teachers’ union. Stark has long held teachers in a high regard and has wanted to be one herself since she was a child.
“I’ve had awesome instructors throughout my life, from my elementary school teachers to my college professors,” Stark said. “I’ve always considered teaching to be a great way to make a difference in the lives of many other people, so for me, it’s always been about helping others achieve what they didn't know they could. It’s always fun when they have that ‘aha’ moment because it makes you go, ‘Yes! I got through to them!’ When you see them succeed, it just puts a warm feeling in your heart.”
As a Michigan City native, Stark attended Jefferson Elementary school and Barker Middle School growing up. She went on to graduate from Elston High School in 1974. Stark then left her hometown to pursue a degree in business education at Indiana University Bloomington, graduating in 1978. She would also earn her master’s degree in secondary education from Indiana University in 1985.
Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, Stark returned to Michigan City and began teaching such subjects as math, business, accounting, personal financing, and computer programming at Elston High School. She also taught at Rogers High School and continued to do so after it became Michigan City High School in 1995.
Stark is certified as an instructor with organizations like Google, Microsoft Academy, and Project Lead the Way. She has also been trained in data analysis, negotiation leadership, and cybersecurity instruction.
Although Stark had served as the vice president of the MCEA for two years before ascending to the presidency, she received an entirely new perspective when she assumed her new position.
“I was able to see the whole picture when I was president of the MCEA,” said Stark. “The president deals with every single school staff member. One thing that stands out to me is the memory of getting to know our employees as well as I could. I was also struck by just how committed our teachers were. I always knew they were, but as president, I was able to see firsthand how dedicated they were to their students and how much they cared about their kids.”
Stark attributes part of her success as MCEA president to the support system that she had during her time in the role.
“There definitely was a learning curve, but I had an awesome group of people behind me,” said Stark. “I could never have done half or three-fourths of what I did without my fellow officers, the rest of the staff, and even the administration at the central office. There's no question that we will see things from different viewpoints, but it's like family – you fight about things within your house, but you never take it outside. At the end of the day, our goals are still the same: figuring out what's best for the kids and making schools in the Michigan City area the best that they can be.”
Having retired from the MCEA presidency, Stark dedicates much of her time to the MCAS school board, working to ensure each student in the Michigan City area receives an education that can provide them with a secure future.
“I would like to see the development of stronger relationships between businesses and schools in the Michigan City community,” Stark said. “I’d also like to see many more of these partnerships be created. We already have a lot of great partnerships with our local businesses – anytime you call one of them, they're always willing to help. We must continue to improve the communication channel between schools and businesses so us teachers can know which skills employers want our kids to have. We can then balance those things against what the state tells us to teach. That way, wherever our kids go after they graduate, they will have the skills employers are looking for. Of course, our hope is that they will move to new places, take advantage of the opportunities there, and eventually come back home to seek employment with the businesses in Michigan City.”
Stark expressed much optimism for the new programs and projects that will be implemented in the Michigan City community in the coming year and expects them to have a significant impact on her hometown.
“I'm very excited about the new developments that are being introduced in Michigan City’s schools and community,” Stark said. “I only see positive things coming down the pike for everybody in Michigan City, and I look forward to assisting in them however I can. When we see the final results in a few years, I believe everyone will realize that it was worth it. I think the students and the rest of the community are going to feel that – it’ll be contagious.”
One of Stark’s favorite pastimes is to do research on her family history for her ongoing genealogy project. She also loves to scrapbook and enjoys reading books from a wide variety of genres. As a lover of education, she tries to learn new skills by attending the various classes offered in her community.