Fellow Hill Dwellers,
I hope you don’t mind that I join the conversation regarding the proposed cutbacks of art, music, PE and foreign language at Belmont Hills (and other elementary schools). I’m the 7th grade gifted teacher at Welsh Valley Middle School Prior to that, I served as an art teacher for 15 years. I’m also an artist, designer, homeowner and father of two. My oldest will be heading to BH this fall. Consequently, I’m very invested in the issues that you’re concerned about and appreciate the community’s rally of support. My wife was in attendance last evening and mentioned that a recurring, unanswered, question continuously popped up; “Why is this happening?”
As I stated during last month’s school board meeting, I believe almost all district decision makers agree with our concerns and position. Consider this, you would be hard pressed to find a more education-friendly school board in the entire state. Our board members, many of whom I’ve worked along side of on arts related initiatives, are passionately committed to maintaining and promoting intellectual and cultural enrichment experiences. In fact, I think most would openly and proudly describe themselves as “liberal,” a word that is considered taboo in many other communities around PA.
The same can be said about central and local administrators. Believe me when I tell you, these are people who value the arts and humanities. Within the last two years, I have personally been involved in a district-wide art show that showcased the talents and accomplishments of LMSD art instructors, a promotional video specifically highlighting the contributions and impact of LMSD’s interdisciplinary programs, music, art and foreign language departments, the installation of a monumental mosaic mural and countless opportunities (digital, print, PR, presentations etc.) to highlight and celebrate student achievements in the arts. These were all initiated by central and local administrators, in an effort to build stock and value in the things we prize.
Mind you, I’m not stating this because I work for these people, I sincerely believe they deserve acknowledgement for their efforts. I’m also not saying you have to agree with, nor even like, any of them. I’m just attempting to communicate that these groups are sympathetic and supportive. It’s one thing to establish what the problem isn’t, it’s another thing to attempt to isolate the salient issue(s). I’ll try to outline what I believe them to be:
1) We have a swelling student population. Increased enrollment is, inevitably, going to lead to burdens on resources (time, energy, money). It’s unfortunate but, I suppose, that’s what you get for having a strong reputation as a premiere public school district. Our property values certainly benefit from this reputation.
2) We live in litigious times and our community is more litigious than most. Increasingly frivolous lawsuits take a tremendous toll on district resources (time, energy, money).
3) The greatest threat to the humanities is the ever increasing emphasis placed on high stakes, standardized test results, in spite of their decreasing relevance in the age of information. PSSAs were bad, Keystones will be worse. Why? Because they are going to be tied to graduation requirements AND teacher evaluations. I ask you, how can a district possibly justify committing dwindling resources to subjects that aren’t tested? Administrators’ and teachers’ livelihoods will be attached to these test results. If kids don’t do well, educators will lose their jobs and, families will eventually begin to sue the district for negligence.
How many years do you think it will take a high-stakes test-driven model to completely disenfranchise students, break quality educators and bankrupt districts? Maybe three? Then what? Voucher systems and private takeovers will seem like a great alternative, because privately run schools don’t need to play by state rules and regulations. They can make decisions based on what’s good for students instead of students’ test scores. Why would the state move in this direction? I don’t want to get too political but I will tell you that there are private individuals and organizations that stand to grab lots of local tax dollars if, and when, education is privatized. Coincidentally, they donated generously to our current governor’s campaign (and produced the documentary Waiting for Superman).
So, what can be done? As a taxpayer and parent, I’m standing up against high stakes test-centered legislation. Objective test data can certainly be one prong of assessment but there can, and should, be many others. I also intend to speak out publicly and vigilantly against, what I believe are, frivolous lawsuits which are, essentially, stealing resources from all children to benefit just a few (not to mention law firms).
I don’t intend to tell anyone what to think nor do. I merely wanted to share my perspectives which, thanks to my position and experience, may help to shed light on the subjects at hand. Sorry to have bent your eyes, keep fighting the “good fight!”