Friday, February 26, 2010

The Fairview Strings Program and other school budget cuts

It is Arts Week in Bloomington, Indiana, with a keynote lecture tonight by food defender Michael Pollan. Arts Week always leaves me with some of the same feeling I have around Earth Day: "Earth Day Every Day" is the ultimate take-away. "Arts Week Every Week" could be a sub-theme for elenabella. I'm very grateful for Arts Week, although the timing is bittersweet this year.

I grew up in a family with tremendous respect for and involvement in the arts, and in arts education. As a result, one of the things I find most depressing about the tidal wave of cuts to local, state and national school funding is that the arts are always among the first subject areas gutted. How many times have these words been used, ignorantly, in the same sentence: "arts" and "fluff"?  Or "arts" and "frosting on the cake"?

Anyone who makes the mistake of talking that way around me is immediately demoted, in my internal reckoning, to the status of unimaginative, dull-witted, and hopelessly behind the curve. As in: "Don't these idiots know anything?" I have such an intense reaction that I'm not the best person to speak out at school board meetings; I would start to sputter, and possibly cry. Yes, it's an emotional topic. I wait, therefore, until the dead of night to craft my response into written language.

Here's why: the way our brains are wired, the arts help put things together. They promote the firing of synapses and growth of unexpected ideas. They are not simply decorative; they are cognitive.

The arts also offer a remarkably basic way to learn about teamwork, and the full emotional range of bringing something initially difficult to completion. The skills gained translate to many other subject areas and domains.

Merrie Slone, one of the cashiers at Bloomingfoods Near West Side (who is also a songwriter and musician: in other words, she can count out a cash drawer AND make music), was wearing a t-shirt the other day from the strings program at Fairview Elementary School; when I commented on it, she mentioned that the image had been drawn by her daughter, a program participant.

The strings program in this lower-income neighborhood school is described in this piece from the Indiana University Newsroom, also posted at the homepage  for the IU Jacobs School of Music. It's a remarkable collaboration with the Jacobs School, under the direction of IU associate professor of music education, Brenda Brenner. There is a research component to the project that considers the developmental learning effects of early music education. (Math and reading scores have both gone up, while behavioral issues have subsided. Self confidence improves, too.)

You can see a performance of the young violinists in the Musical Arts Building on the IU campus below. There's also a very good video segment in the archive of the WFIU Weekly Special (it's "Fairview Violin Program," number 105), featuring an interview with Brenda Brenner. The images here are courtesy of Indiana University.

This program is just one of many that was cut in a vote of our local MCCSC School Board last Friday night. An article by Andy Graham in the Herald-Times details the devastation to our district. As always with cuts to arts and education funding, what we make up in the short run costs a great deal more in the long run, in terms of finding the momentum, resources and talent to initiate something like this again someday, far into the future. In the meantime, we let down the kids, teachers, and parents who have been engaged and inspired. We inevitably waste time scratching our heads, trying to discover other ways to so rapidly advance learning. Worksheets and standardized tests alone are simply not going to cut it.

Approved cuts to the Monroe County Community School Corporation

Budget-cutting moves approved Friday by the Monroe County Community School Corp. board:

Increase class-size ratio, cutting about 45 certified teaching staff, with program cuts eliminating about 30 other certified jobs.
Eliminate elementary and middle school media specialists.
Eliminate middle school foreign language instruction.
Eliminate middle school family and consumer science.
Eliminate one assistant, part-time athletic director at each high school.
Reduce high school assistant coaches.
School age care staff adjusted to break even.
Eliminate six elementary assistant principal positions for 2011-12.
Eliminate unfilled assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction job and related secretarial job.
Eliminate the healthy school coordinator position.
Freeze all administrative salaries.
Reduce school board salaries.
Move Aurora Alternative High School to Bloomington High School North building with some reduction to staff.
Reduce the Teen Learning Center.
Reduce Alternative to Suspension.
Reduce Youth Outreach.
Eliminate Bradford Woods program.
Eliminate Honey Creek School.
Eliminate elementary strings program.
Drain high school pools out of season.
Close Batchelor Middle School pool.
Eliminate substitutes for building secretaries.
Eliminate summer school.

Move NWEA (testing) costs from general fund to capital projects fund ($85,000).
Eliminate corporation cell phones.
Lower energy costs through Energy Education Inc. program.
Move maintenance materials and supplies from general fund to capital projects fund.
Reduce instruction materials and supplies by 10 percent.
Reduce administrative materials and supplies by 10 percent.
Reduce travel expenses by 10 percent.
Reduce vehicle purchases.
Eliminate the district’s supplemental share of band uniform purchases.
Reduce each school’s allocation for substitutes for teacher and staff professional development opportunities.
Eliminate staff development costs from the general fund that are not (state law) PL 221 required.
Eliminate the general fund’s portion of purchasing library books and periodicals.


Joyce said...

Elena, you are so right! The arts develop cognitive skills, self-knowledge, self-confidence, a sense of community, the ability to interact creatively with the world and to offer genuine gifts to others. The cuts you describe are heart-breaking!

Daughter Number Three said...

Those are cuts to the bone of the schools. What was *not* cut?

elena áká Ellen Kennedy Michel said...

It is down to the bone, with major cuts to athletics as well. And when you eliminate all media specialists...well, that's a low blow to education in every subject area. It's our governor; looking forward to the day when he is out of there (2012). Reminds me of the MN governor in the damage done during his tenure to public education.