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Balance in D65 Arts Programming

A concern that the push for "robust" arts programming will and has siphoned money away from critical school programs and services, and a request to find middle ground.

I have read many posts and stories from parents asking for "robust" arts education in District 65, and I wanted to express my concern with this approach.

I do want my child to have access to the arts - however, I am concerned that the amount of money currently being spent on the wide variety of arts programming in D65 is taking money away from other essential programs. In an arts-friendly community like Evanston it is easy to get a large group of people to support programming - but parents whose kids need academic or other supports don't tend to have as loud a voice, even though those needs affect the entire student population. In short, I love the arts - one of my degrees is in Drama - and I'd love to offer a variety of programming - but not at the expense of our kids getting what they NEED. 

There is only so much money in the school budget, and when I hear that arts programming is increased, I wonder where that money is coming from. To make an educated guess, ask yourself how much time your teacher is spending managing "differentiation" on their own - or managing special needs kids without full-time in-classroom support - these affect all kids in every school. I hear parents say that programming is not a zero-sum game, but to date we have lost bus and classroom aides, and PE teachers, social workers, SPED teachers and various therapists are frequently "shared" between schools and classrooms (read: spread thinner) rather than supporting kids in an appropriate, stable and predictable way. I feel it is also important to note that D65 has a poor reputation in the surrounding area for its delivery of special services, and know families who have opted to remove their children or move out of town for this reason.

I don't think a majority in the City will support a tax increase, which leaves redistributing the budget (meaning, cuts) as the only option for funding. I think we can and should advocate for an excellent full-time art teacher and an excellent full-time music teacher in each school, along with the tools they need to do their job, but beyond that, I wish arts advocates would consider asking D65 to offer the other options in a fiscally responsible manner, and find middle ground rather than asking for every possible kind of programming.

To that end, I have two ideas - either make Drama and Band/Orchestra and programs like them into afterschool enrichment programs available on a sliding-scale fee (including instrument rental, which I don't think is managed as equitably as many people assume) or combine them at the middle school level to make all the different programs available as ONE elective art course (so a student could choose, for instance, either Drama or Band, but not both in the same semester.) This is in no way an implication of either program; we have had a good experience with them.  

I wish the same could be said for the programs and services that I feel aren't getting the attention they deserve.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michele S. Hays September 23, 2012 at 01:07 AM
@Sally - apparently you and I either know or are completely different SPED parents. I am glad to know that there are parents who feel they are being well-served.
annie September 23, 2012 at 03:58 AM
A lof of this is really about funding. Because school budgets are limited, the school administrations (all across America) have to stretch their dollars wherever they can. Next time there is a referendum for education, make sure you vote YES. If you look at your tax bill, the majority of it is not on funding education. When citizens vote no, or not at all, you don't get to complain that the money isn't being spent on things the schools have been forced to cut. You are helping your child and the children yet to come. I have no idea how old your children are, but time passes pretty fast, and before you know it, they are out of elementary/middle school and moving on to other things. My kids are out of high school now, but as parents we are our children's best advocates, and being their best advocate applies to just about everything they do until they are 18. Where is the $ currently coming from? The school districts apply for many grants, and sometimes the funding comes from many different programs. Best bet is to ask your school principal about it!
Diane R. Johnson September 23, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Michele - I completely agree with your assessment of special ed in Evanston. It seemed as if we were constantly battling for appropriate services. I found that "reading specialists" were completely unfamiliar with the specialized reading programs recommended for dyslexics. Many comments were made by various educators that indicated their belief that our kids' problems were due to parental negligence. I have heard comments that people did not "believe in ADHD", that it was just poor parenting. And by their actions, many apparently don't "believe" in dyslexia either. If we supplemented with outside programs or tutors, it was often viewed as a nuisance. Over the years, almost every private professional we have worked with, recommended that we move to Wilmette or Glenview. Of course, parents in those communities also complain. We chose to stay here an fight for a variety of reasons. I have often wondered how learning disabled kids fared whose parents did not have time or money or confidence to research and pursue help. Perhaps Sally's kids and their cohorts happened to find a champion their school, or have problems that aren't so "invisible".
Procrustes' Foil September 25, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Michele, I never said that the arts can replace the required services for special needs kids. They can't and should not. But they can enhance those services. I am a laid-off teacher who also likes to eat as all unemployed people do! Second, I never said that art is free. My school partnered with artists from Columbia College who worked with classroom teachers. This arrangement was funded by a grant that paid those artists. There are educational grants out there for this purpose. You may also want to try Donors Choice. Finally, I also have a background in the arts. I studied classical violin and voice which I used often in teaching subject matter. These are important issues which are not served very well by sarcasm.
BRG September 25, 2012 at 11:59 PM
When I work with immigrant students, they and their parents want their children in the most rigorous classes, not ESL. We have so many District 65 staff devoted to bilingual, from parent liaison to special ed that children who need more face to face contact with a teacher, in other words ALL of our students, are not getting it. There is no bilingual Polish liaison or Bosnian or Korean. We are doing these families a disservice.

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