MCPS talks a good game about “Success for Every Student.” The new curriculum page on their website declares:
The MCPS curriculum serves all learners. It includes the basics — language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts. It supports exceptional children — those with disabilities, the highly able, and English language learners….
I would beg to differ, and nothing demonstrates the disconnect more clearly than the planned halving of the Visual Arts Center at Einstein High School (VAC). 50% of the VAC staff (one of the two teachers) is being cut from the budget.
Never heard of the VAC? Neither had I until about two years ago. It’s a small program, not as flashy as the Blair Math Science Computer Magnet. But it fills a critically important niche for those students who excel in the visual arts and don’t plan to march lock-step into a STEM career. Or rack up APs for that matter. Check out the Seven Keys to College Readiness again. See any art there? Nope. Make no mistake, those Keys are the priorities that are truly driving your child’s education. (For that matter, there’s no writing, science or social studies there either.) But art matters. A lot. Just read what Prof. Ellen Winner (wife of Multiple Intelligences guru Howard Gardner) has to say. Heck, read what I have to say.
I was slow off the mark blogging this because I’ve been up-to-my-eyeballs busy (Sorry Sue!) However here’s some important background information that’s been making the rounds of area listservs:
- The VAC is nationally known and respected. Recruiters from the nation’s best art schools and liberal arts colleges compete for VAC graduates. Fully 100% of VAC students go to college.
- The two VAC teachers won the Montgomery County Executive’s Award for excellence in education last October, and Ike Leggett personally presented the county’s most prestigious award to the VAC teachers in a ceremony at Strathmore Hall. Kristy Callaway, executive director of the International Network of Schools for the Advancement of Arts Education, who charts trends in the field, called the VAC among the “top-tier programs” of its kind anywhere.
- Cutting the VAC staff in half isn’t fair. It exceeds other program reductions and imperils the VAC’s future. The VAC has only two teachers, no administrative funding support, and no transportation funding. It is already as lean as possible.
- The VAC serves Montgomery County. Students from 11 high schools attend the VAC this year. Unlike other magnets, it accepts sophomores and juniors. It is also unusually diverse for a magnet: 43% of the 74 students this year are students of color.
- The VAC serves Einstein. VAC students perform well academically, and garner awards and recognition for the school. They paint murals and posters, design sets, and otherwise help to enliven the school and other community facilities. The annual art show attracts outside interest to Einstein.
- The VAC gives aspiring artists, fashion designers, film makers, and art educators a place to thrive including many who otherwise might struggle. Many large school systems offer special schools for the arts, but our school district – the largest in Maryland and the 16th largest in the country – offers only a two-teacher program for our top art students. It deserves our support.
- One teacher should not teach all the students in an intense, four-year program of two to three periods a day. Two teachers allow complementary, alternating semesters These two teachers meet with every parent, and help all their students to apply for scholarships and other honors. The results are remarkable.
UPDATE: I’ll add a ninth point: The VAC is part of MCPS’s “continuum of gifted education services.” That’s right. The VAC is a program for “students whose needs can’t be met in the home school.” Bottomline, this is a gifted education program. Check the COMAR language:
(18) “Gifted and talented” means an elementary or secondary school student who is identified by professionally qualified individuals as having outstanding abilities in one or more of the following areas:
(a) General intellectual capabilities;
(b) Specific academic aptitudes; or
(c) Creative, visual, or performing arts.
How did we get to this juncture? Thank the good Dr. Weast, whose 2010-2011 budget reduces the number of teaching positions (cuts to central office…not so much). The cluster superintendents instruct the principals on how many positions to cut, and then it’s left to the principals to make the hard choices. When the numbers on the line are those math and reading scores, one can easily see why a program like the VAC would be at risk. And the Board of Ed? As Janis Sartucci of the Parents Coalition has written, “[W]hen parents complain to the Board of Education they can throw up their hands and say ‘too bad, so sad, we didn’t make the decision to cut X program or X class’.”
Bottom line: A 50% cut to this two-teacher program will prove devastating. (Only two teachers to serve artistically gifted students in the county? It’s an embarrassment.)
If you’re in Montgomery County, please consider emailing the Board of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other folks to e-mail include:
Superintendent of schools: Jerry_D_Weast@mcpsmd.org
Community Superintendent: Bronda Mills: Bronda_L_Mills@mcpsmd.org
Montgomery County Council education committee:
- Phil Andrews: Councilmember.Andrews@montgomerycountymd.gov
- Mike Knapp: Councilmember.Knapp@montgomerycountymd.gov
- Valerie Ervin: Councilmember.email@example.com
Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett:
You can also join this Facebook fanpage: Save the Visual Arts Center at Einstein.
All kinds of kids deserve to have their needs met, their talents fostered.