Indiana

Music cutbacks at some IPS schools anger parents

Erin Szalkie’s sixth-grade son James was upset when she dropped him off at school this morning, having just learned that the orchestra program he loves at Indianapolis Public Schools’ Center for Inquiry at School 84 would be cut next year.

Whether the fledgling violinist would continue to learn to play his instrument was suddenly in doubt.

School 84 is one of a handful of IPS elementary schools that would stop offering instrumental music lessons next year as part of a district-wide overhaul of music, art and gym programs aimed at making sure all schools get a full-time teacher in each of those subjects.

But to add full-time teachers at some schools that have only part-time teachers in those subjects, other schools might lose extras, like lessons for kids who play band and orchestra instruments.

Szalkie and others say they learned of the plan from teachers or through Facebook friends, not directly from the district, and they’re angry.

“These programs don’t belong to the school board, they belong to the kids,” Szalkie said. “To have no communication, no explanation and no opportunity to say ‘maybe there’s something else we can do’ … is disappointing.”

If the changes are put in place, each elementary school would have one full-time music teacher. In the past, some schools had a part-time music teacher while others had both a general music teacher and a part-time instrumental music teacher.

Most of IPS’s 48 elementary schools probably won’t notice a change. For many, it might only will mean a music teacher spending a few more hours at school. But for 12 schools, including the Centers for Inquiry, it means fewer teachers.

“The goal is to create a more equitable system where each school has at least one dedicated, full-time music educator,” IPS spokeswoman Kristin Cutler said. “The current system involves many shared educators between several schools.”

The move was also designed to give principals more choice in how to assign staff at their buildings. IPS school board members have made repeated calls for principals to make more choices about how they run their schools.

Schools with high enrollment will have an additional “special area” teacher. Principals can choose what they want that teacher to teach. The also can decide whether the school’s one music teacher will specialize in general music or instrumental music.

Not every music teacher is licensed in both general music and instrumental music. It’s an “incredibly rare skill set” to have both, Szalkie said. Her school principal was left with little choice but to cut the orchestra program. Others probably will face the same difficult choice.

“You’re going to have a general program for every kid,” Szalkie said. “If you’re saying you have the choice, their hands are tied. They have to make a decision that meets every grade level, every kid. It’s not really a choice.”

School board member Gayle Cosby said she was unhappy with the decision. School autonomy should result in more program choices for schools and kids, not fewer, she said.

“We all know that parents base school decisions off of these kinds of offerings,” Cosby said. “Here we are again, making decisions about autonomy without a full understanding of autonomy as a board. I’m concerned that we are once again putting the cart before the horse.”

Szalkie’s son said he wants to take action to protest the decision. Now his mom just has to figure out if she can find a way for him to have lessons outside of school next year.

“He’s planning to start his letter writing camping tonight,” Szalkie said. “I said, ‘You’re old enough. If you don’t agree with what they’re doing, stand up and say something.'”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”