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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.

Sally September 22, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Thank you for saying what needs to be said. Arts are great but not at the expense of what our children NEED. However, I strongly disagree with your comment regarding special services. As a parent of a special education child I am offended when I hear people say that d65 provides inferior services to our kids. This is absolutely not true. As a parent who has investigated surrounding communities and weighed both academic instruction in addition to the very important socialization component, I have CHOSEN to enroll my child in d65. If I believed that moving to a neighboring community would enable my child to get a better education, I would do it. Additionally, I know of many other families who have investigated other districts - including sitting in on classrooms - and have chosen to remain in d65.
Procrustes' Foil September 22, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Your comments are thoughtful and well-intentioned. But, as usual, we have limited resources and must make difficult choices. The ARTS do indeed help kids learn and can be integrated into the regular curricula. For example, the study of classical music is a study of history, philosophy and science (physics). The Arts are especially useful for special education learners. We just need to be inventive in teaching them without incurring additional costs.
Michele S. Hays September 22, 2012 at 12:50 PM
@Sally - I am glad your experience with D65 Special Services has been good, however, the consensus I am hearing from other parents is that social services are spread very thin, are often refused for children who need them, and are not consistently applied. This indicates to me that these services do not receive sufficient financial support from the District, and are being "hoarded" by schools. LAC, if you can find a way to get free arts in the schools, I'm all for that. As someone who graduated college with a major in Drama, I can tell you that people in the fine arts generally prefer to eat rather than not, and working without a salary is typically not conducive to eating.
Michele S. Hays September 22, 2012 at 12:52 PM
@Sally - I am glad your experience with D65 Special Services has been good, however, the consensus I am hearing from other parents is that social services are spread very thin, are often refused for children who need them, and are not consistently applied. This indicates to me that these services do not receive sufficient financial support from the District, and are being "hoarded" by schools. LAC, if you can find a way to get free arts in the schools, I'm all for that, and I don't disagree that arts is good for everyone, including kids with special needs - what I'm saying is that arts is not a replacement for appropriate supports and therapies. Also, as someone who graduated college with a major in Drama, I can tell you that people in the fine arts generally prefer to eat rather than not, and working for free is typically not conducive to eating.
Stephanie Kulke September 22, 2012 at 03:14 PM
The Evanston Arts Education Coalition is a volunteer group of parents and community leaders working to restore art teacher staffing and fine arts programs to our schools. Research proves that education that includes at least three hours per week of fine arts instruction (art, music, drama, dance) pays off in improved attention, memory, cognitive skills, literacy and academic performance for all children. The Evanston Arts Ed Coalition believes that arts should be considered part of the core curriculum, and that fine art teachers should be considered equal teaching partners in their home schools and not stretched to instruct at two or more schools. Over the past several years D65 schools have undergone a gradual erosion of art teachers presence in school buildings, arts enrichment (interdisciplinary projects that support classroom learning in science and social studies), and arts programming and clubs that make art participation accessible to all regardless of income. To find out more, join the email list at EvanstonArtsEd@gmail.com, and attend the next meeting: Monday, October 1, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Musical Offering.
Sally September 23, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Michelle, I hear a lot from people of what "other parents" are saying but please believe me that of the many special ed parents I actually know, none feel that their kids would be better served elsewhere . And, again, my point was how offensive this is to me personally when people talk about how badly our services compare to neighboring communities because it infers that I am not doing the best for my child.
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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