arts increases

City will hire 100 new arts teachers and invest in facilities with additional $23M

PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how the city would spend an additional $23 million in arts funding at the Bronx Museum of the Arts Tuesday.

The city will divide up an additional $23 million set aside for arts education to hire 120 new teachers, improve and create new facilities, and provide arts teachers with funds to purchase new supplies, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

Directing the additional funds, which will bring the city’s total arts spending to about $353 million, is the first step toward bringing the city’s public schools into compliance with state law, which requires all middle and high schools to have some form of arts education, de Blasio said.

“For too long, we had under-invested in arts education and cultural education in our schools,” de Blasio said. “And it was time to right that wrong and do something aggressive about it.”

De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that the money would be spent in a range of ways, following weeks of advocates pushing their own priorities. The department will spend $4.7 million to put 100 arts teachers in pairs of middle schools, $7.5 million to make improvements to facilities, and $1.4 million to expand partnerships with cultural organizations, officials said. The city will also set aside $1,000 for each full-time arts teacher to purchase supplies.

Schools will be able to apply for grants to hire new teachers or improve their arts facilities, and will be encouraged to work with nearby or co-located schools to apply together so that the funding can reach more schools, officials said.

“We’re also asking schools that are co-located to actually talk to each other,” Fariña said. “Because when we look at schools that may be in same building and aren’t getting along, the arts will bring them together.”

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio vowed to add funding for the arts and set a goal that all students would receive state-mandated arts instruction within four years. All told, this year’s additional money is an approximately 7 percent increase over last year’s citywide arts spending.

The funding increase does not change the policy, put in place under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that cut a dedicated line for the arts from school budgets, allowing principals to redirect funds to offset budget cuts. The school system lost more than 200 certified arts teachers after that change, according to a report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer, who stood next to de Blasio at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, praised the mayor for swiftly acting on his report, which he said showed “shocking disparities.” One in five city schools do not have a full-time, certified arts teacher, according to his analysis, and schools in the poorest areas of the city were least likely to offer arts education.

The M.S. 215 band played before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how increased funding for arts education would be spent Tuesday.
PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
The M.S. 215 band played before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how increased funding for arts education would be spent Tuesday.

Fariña said she believed adding arts programs will increase attendance, especially among middle school students who need something extra to capture their interests. Funding to improve auditoriums and dance floors, even when shared by schools, can help students have more opportunities to perform, she said, increasing students’ confidence.

“How many of you like going on the stage and showing off for people? Absolutely! Why not? So this is an important thing,” Fariña asked members of the M.S. 215 band who played at the announcement, noting that all of the school auditoriums in the city would get some “sprucing up.”

More than $350,000 will also go toward funding a partnership between the Lincoln Center and Hunter College of New York to train 20 new teachers as arts educators over the next three years. While completing the two-year training program, teachers will be able to apply for full-time teaching positions in city schools.

Eric Pryor, executive director of the Center for Arts Education, who has criticized the city’s arts education offerings in recent years, said he was heartened by the new push for partnerships.

“The announcement today shows that they believe in that and they’re investing in helping to broaden what our students receive, particularly our most vulnerable children,” Pryor said.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.