Editor’s note: The following comment was submitted to the Amherst School committee on March 29, 2021 for their scheduled meeting on March 30.
I was distressed to learn that the administration is again setting their sights on art teachers, eight years after almost the same budget cuts compelled me to run for school committee.
It’s as if the administration learned nothing after cutting the specials teachers in 2013 and then restoring the cuts in 2015. So many platitudes at that time about the value of arts education and the important role of arts integration.
Now we find ourselves in 2021 with déjà vu. I read that since the arts and technology staff at Crocker Farm are leaving/retiring, and rather than replace them with full-time staff, the district is proposing to hire part-time staff (0.4 FTE) to teach two days per week at Crocker Farm, and have the Wildwood and Fort River art and technology teachers cover the other two days.
Students would still receive a 40-minute class each week in both subjects, but the reductions would mean the specialist teachers would condense their classes into four days a week in each school, leaving less time for other projects or “integrated” programming that crosses disciplines.
Here’s what I wrote to the Bulletin in 2013:
“Joy and mastery in music and art leads many students who are otherwise struggling in the classroom environment to deeper engagement in school and the development of the 21st century skills, such as perseverance, goal setting, and executive functioning, that research is increasingly revealing are at the foundation of academic success. All parents can take pride in watching their children perform or seeing their art pieces displayed on the walls of the school. Class, race and language barriers are reduced through chorus, band, orchestra, visual art shows, and activities such as the jump rope club.
This does not happen by accident. This is not magic. This is the result of hard work on the part of the specials teachers. These teachers are integral members of our school communities. Their impact is not confined to 40-minute instructional timeslots. Unlike grade level teachers, their relationships with children and families span across years – they understand the developmental trajectory of the children and build a multi-year relationship with families. They provide a valuable perspective on children’s strengths and learning styles that informs all the adults in the children’s lives. They support the classroom teachers in integrating music and arts into the curricula, further sparking student engagement and helping to make up for the woefully inadequate time for the arts in the weekly schedule. The specials teachers in our schools play a vital connecting role and bring a positive energy to the entire school community, energy that fuels student and adult engagement alike. This takes real time and a presence in the school to achieve.
Treating this job as if the teachers were vendors and assigning them across schools with little regard to the vital roles they play within the school community will destroy their ability to be the connectors in their schools. If we really want to make progress on the tough challenges of student engagement, subgroup performance, and involvement of “at-risk” families, we should be learning from, building on and supporting the role of the specials teachers, not undermining their success.”
Well here we are again. I urge the School Committee to unequivocally reject the proposed cuts to arts and technology teachers – it is in fact shameful that eight years after we first had this fight, our children are still only getting 40 minutes of art per week. I also wholeheartedly urge you to reject the cuts that target ELL interpreters. You have the power to do this, please use this power.
Kathleen Traphagen is a resident of Amherst