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Allentown looks to increase arts education

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 14 2013 11:10:29 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 15 2013 08:40:32 AM CST
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Most of the Allentown School Board Education Committee of the Whole’s meeting Thursday night was dominated by two issues – a proposal to increase time allocated to increasing the teaching of arts-related subjects in the elementary school level and an update on the implementation plan of last month’s approval of mandatory school uniforms that will start next year.

On the first issue, Tina Belardi, ASD’s chief academic officer, provided the board with a history of the related arts during her presentation. Because of massive budget shortfalls for several years now, the district has been forced to de-emphasize these areas throughout the elementary school level. Belardi explained that prior to the 2011-2012 school year, there were 56 related arts specialists in the district, with 14 each allocated to music, art, physical education and librarian instruction.

“All classrooms had music, art, library and physical education once a week all year long for a total of about 36 classroom visits per year,” Belardi said.

That changed during that 2011-2012 year as 36 related arts positions cut leaving 20 positions, with now five allocated to each sector. And four “integrated specialists” provided additional related arts classes to all 15 elementary schools by invitation.

Lisa Miller, who is a teacher at Raub Middle School, said the snapshot lessons aren’t doing much good.

“The arts must be nurtured at an early age,” she told the board. “Presently we have a disjointed curriculum. Current specialists schedules of nine-week increments provide for snapshot lessons as opposed to meaningful lessons…Without a basic understanding of these concepts, students are not adequately prepared to compete in the arts or sports fields….Consequently the future of our arts and sports programs at ASD looks grim.”

In an effort to rectify this problem Miller, along with teachers union President Debbie Tretter, presented a proposal that the said would rectify the dilemma.

“This would be corrected if we adopted an elementary specialist schedule to afford students more opportunities to learn,” she said.

Miller then pitched her proposal.

“Students would have a specialist for twice as many classes at no additional cost,” she said. “P.E. and library would be scheduled throughout the school year. And art and music would be taught in semesters.”

Superintendent C. Russell Mayo praised Miller for her diligent efforts to address the situation, but added for a point of clarification that the plan was contingent upon 24 positions, not the current 20 positions to make it work, thus meaning that four specialists would have to be pulled from somewhere else in the district to increase the rotations and hence, actually be feasible and not cost the already cash-strapped district more money.

The board did not vote on the issue and simply heard the proposal. Mayo also said it would be “premature” for him to endorse or oppose the plan at this stage.

In the other top issue of the night, the board heard an update from Susan Lozada, ASD’s executive director of community and student services, about the school uniform implementation plan.

Last month the board approved a school uniform dress code l for full implementation across all grade levels starting in the 2013-2014 school year.

Lozada’s report centered on the district’s uniform committee, which is comprised of parents, staff and administrators, who are providing input shaping and finalizing the policy.

According to the plan submitted to board members Thursday night, during the month of March the uniform committee will coordinate school open houses and parent meetings through the district to unveil the uniforms in something described as a “fashion show.”

Lozada noted that one important philosophical aspect the committee hopes to impart to ASD students is the concept of “what this means to wear this uniform,” she said. And part of what that means is to show an affiliation to one’s school and to establish a sense of pride in that affiliation, and also for students to develop a sense of pride and professionalism in the idea of learning and in themselves, among others.