March 12, 2003

Budget cuts travesty

Filed under: Art and About Changing the World — admin @ 3:31 pm

News flash for Acalanes District superintendent Randy Olson: Not every student learns math, English and science in math, English and science classes. Not everybody learns how to work with a team by playing after-school sports.

The preliminary staff layoffs list for the Acalanes School District jeopardizes arts programs in our Lamorinda high schools causing an even more grave crisis in education than the impending state budget cuts. Extremely strong and popular choral programs in our three high schools are seemingly expendable. With the issuance of three pink slips to Gene Peterson, Chris Olin and Bruce Lengacher, programs built on decades of excellence in vocal music education could be completely obliterated.

These aren’t glee clubs. The choral music classroom is a place where students engage the same part of their brain that is cultivated in a math class. Culture, history, sociology and politics are explored through preparation and discussion about challenging music selections. Students learn to take risks by putting themselves on the line to create top-notch performances, sing solos or simply hold their own part in the alto, soprano, tenor or bass sections. The skills of teamwork and cooperation are honed on a daily basis, for without the other voices in the choir, there would be no song.

Our choral students compete at music festivals as prestigious as the North Coast section championship in sports. They become ambassadors for our superior school system through state, national and international tours. The richness and depths of this educational experience for the hundreds of kids who go through these programs each year cannot be matched in a classroom that simply teaches the “3 Rs.”

Half the district’s industrial technology teachers are also facing possible elimination. “Industrial technology” is the current term for what used to be called “industrial arts,” which along with auto shop and metal shop, includes wood shop, drafting, graphic arts and photography. At Lamorinda high schools, three-dimensional artforms like sculpture in myriad materials, pottery, woodworking and various mixed media are created in these programs. Industrial technology classes teach engineering skills from problem-solving to follow-through and the nuances of communication skills to translate an idea that started in one brain but may have to ultimately be achieved by many brains working together. Students in Don Dupont’s furniture building class learn the social studies inherently intertwined with the history of design when they create their projects.

Students in industrial technology explore different learning processes from those used in core classes, and even in other arts electives. It is not unusual to find students for whom industrial technology classes are the single high point in their academic day. In fact, in many cases, I have met kids in the Acalanes district who are staying in school just because of their industrial technology class.

We also have to remember that there is a vocational aspect to programs in the arts. Not every kid coming out of Lamorinda wants to be a doctor, lawyer or businessperson. For many students, introductory and advanced instruction in the arts comes through arts electives in high school. Lafayette resident Erling Horn is the very proud papa of professional violist Patrick and professional photographer Rolfe. Both boys came through the Acalanes school district and Horn on multiple occasions has told me that he is convinced that it is the arts education his kids received in our public schools that set his boys on the path to successfully pursuing their passions. And even if a kid’s passion is to be a doctor, lawyer or businessperson, I know I wouldn’t hire or work with someone in these professions who was educationally incomplete because they did not have a comprehensive arts curriculum.

All 53 potential layoffs are appalling. I’m not saying that one educator is more precious to our kids than another. But the devastating impact on entire arts programs due to staff cuts is a lesson we all should have learned during the Prop 13 era.

While researching pre-school programs for my son, I asked one administrator about the arts curriculum at her school. Without missing a beat, she said, “Well, preschool education is really all about the arts.” I believe this attitude should be stringently upheld through all levels of our educational system. I hate to think that the Acalanes School Board and Superintendent Olson believe that the arts are simply child’s play. The district Web site says they are inviting public comment. Please take them up on their invitation.