Controversial fine arts program will stay in schools |

Controversial fine arts program will stay in schools

Michael Schneider

After much scrutiny, numerous complaints, nearly 400 parent surveys, and more than 1,000 student surveys, the Douglas County School Board voted Tuesday to continue the fine arts pilot as a regular program next academic year.

“This is probably the most scrutinized program since I’ve been here,” said Assistant Superintendent of Education Services, John Soderman as he began his presentation prior to board approval.

Despite the fact that concerned parents asked that more time be taken to consider the program, Soderman said the issue had to be dealt with in a timely manner.

He said that many teachers, visual arts teachers, need to know now if they will have jobs next year or if the pilot program would be discontinued.

He said if the board waited until March to decide, many of the schools that are participating in the program would be off track, and May would be too late for calendars.

Currently the entire pilot project won’t be completed until June which, Soderman said, would be too late for an evaluation.

Of the 1,014 surveys Soderman received from students, he said 86 percent approved of continuing music and 83 percent approved continuing the visual arts portion of the program.

“It’s OK, I love it. It survived,” said Soderman.

“I don’t think many other programs would survive the same test,” he said, referring to classes that students don’t generally enjoy such as math and geography.

Soderman said the Parents Advisory Committee interviewed principals, reviewed the surveys and other data they could on the pilot, then made the recommendation to continue the program on a permanent basis.

“I just want the program to continue,” he said.

Vicki Brockhage, PAC member, said as a committee member she thought the pilot program was thoroughly researched.

“As a parent, I want my kids to have a variety of experiences,” said Brockhage.

Sandra Wendel said she was really disappointed that she didn’t receive the survey until Dec. 20, 1996, when it said on the survey that it was due back the previous day.

“I don’t feel you got a true representative counting,” said Wendel. “I don’t think it’s fair to make a program permanent based on one year.”

Wendel said although she wasn’t on the “art side” or “band side,” she felt the art her children had brought home was very technical with a lot of emphasis on product. She said she didn’t think her children had fun with it. The time they spent participating in art, now that it’s a separate program with separate teachers rather than a fun exercise in between classroom lessons, would take away from class time.

“There’s too many plans,” said Wendel. “It’s going to dilute the effectiveness of it.”

Astrid Sady, who has a daughter at Minden Elementary School, showed the board various artistic creations that her child had brought home from her new art class, which she likened to simple, “cutsy-pasty” art.

They were colored paper cutouts of such items as a pumpkin, a snowman, a turtle, and a penguin. She said these items, which didn’t appear especially technical, could be made in the classroom with regular teachers.

“This is the same thing over and over again,” Sady said as she angrily displayed simple cut-out after simple cut-out.

“The school district is asking us to drive in the fog at 100 mph. Work out the problems before you approve it,” she begged of the school board.

The board then began its discussion of the issue beginning with vice president Mary Bennington who moved to approve the program saying she didn’t see how, at this point, the board could do anything but approve.

School board member Don Forrester said he would be interested in possibly keeping the program a pilot for the next year to study and modify it further.

Superintendent Pendery Clark said that based on the experience they’ve had with the program this year, the administration would like to see the fine arts program move forward.

“If we continue it as a pilot, then it makes it difficult on staff,” said Clark.

“The curriculum’s not set in stone,” said board clerk Diane McCoy, saying that even if the project was approved as a regular program, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be modified after implementation.

“We’re not doing it perfectly,” said board member Randy Wallstrum. “I would concede a longer day would be good. It’s not a perfect fix. Hopefully, we’re headed there, but we’re not there yet.”

Wallstrum then turned his attention to Sady who had argued with the board members while they discussed the program among themselves.

“I saw something my daughter brought home that’s not cutsy pasty and I liked it,” said an angered Wallstrum.

The board voted unanimously to continue the fine arts pilot program as a regular program.