Newton Faculty, Parents Push Committee to Restore Art Time
A number of parents also came out to voice their concerns about the elimination of the district's One to One Program.
The Newton School Committee meeting room was filled with posters last night as a crowd of art teachers gathered to advocate for elementary art class time.
"Restore Elem. Art FTEs!" the posters read.
The group of 10-12 teachers sat in on the School Department's fiscal 2013 budget hearing hoping to convince the School Committee to restore 15 minutes of elementary art class time and art teacher positions.
During last year's budget cycle, the School Department decided to reduce elementary art 60 to 45 minutes per week. That time was not restored in this year's budget.
"Losing a quarter of class time that only meets once a week dramatically impacts instruction and learning," said Memorial-Spaulding Art Teacher Alexandra Etscovitz. "So much of our time is focused on time management rather than student learning."
The art teachers showed up wearing red clothing and they each wore a silver badge that said "restore art."
"What I believe is important, and what my colleagues seated behind me believe is important, is for children to have sustained time in art classes to create and reflect on their learning through art," said Burr and Franklin Elementary Art Teacher Diane Jaquith.
Jaquith went on to explain that many of Newton's elementary schools have to double and triple up on staff in order to cover all the art classes. For Jaquith, her Tuesdays involve traveling to Franklin Elementary to teach four classes while a teacher from Lincoln-Eliot travels to Burr to teach Jaquith's students. Traveling from school to school gives teachers even less time to prepare, she said.
The reduction in art class time, Jaquith said, means elementary art instruction makes up 3 percent of the overall instructional time in elementary schools.
"For a nation preoccupied with critical and creative thinking skills, sustained time for the arts is essential," Jaquith said.
During a budget meeting last week, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Joe Russo explained to the committee that the administration considered restoring the 15 minutes of art time during the budget process. However, the art time "did not have the same priority" as bringing back Fourth Grade chorus, which was also eliminated last year.
This year's budget, school officials said, focused on hiring teachers for the projected increase of 200 students. Although there was room for some program restoration, Superintendent David Fleishman said 1 percent of the overall 4.1 percent budget increase was dedicated to handling new enrollment.
In addition, money this year was used to restore mental health positions at elementary schools, add literacy and math aides as well as bolster special education programs at the middle schools.
The School Committee gave its initial approval to the fiscal 2013 $178.8 million budget last Thursday with a straw vote.
Advocating for the One to One Program
Arts was not the only focus of last night's public hearing; several parents also came out to give support to the district's One to One Program, which will be eliminated next year due to lack of grant funding.
"My son's highlight was a weekly meeting with his big brother. Each week he would ask me when his big brother was coming," said Newton parent Todd Kates. "These men played a vital role in my son's life."
The One to One Program pairs a younger student with a high school mentor for the academic year and the mentor meets with his/her "little brother" or "little sister" once a week. In return, the high school students receive academic credit for their participation in the program.
Newton Parent Advisory Council for Special Education Co-Chair Jo-Louise Allen also advocated for the One to One Program, telling the School Committee that the plan was for the program to be funded in the budget by the time the grant money ran out.
"The [One to One] Program is in the Newton North High School and Newton South High School [course] catalogues and there are already kids who are excited and signed up," said Allen.
In addition to the One to One Program, Allen said two intervention counselors at the middle schools will also be eliminated next year when the grant funding runs out.
School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff reminded those at the meeting last night that the committee has "grappled with trade-offs" throughout the budget process and will continue budget deliberations at its next meeting on Monday, March 26. The committee will also likely take a final vote on the budget that night.
"There is not a thing that was said [tonight] that wasn't resonant for us and moving for us," Sokoloff said. "The challenge is that we want to do all these things and yet we don't have the resources to do absolutely everything we'd like to do."