Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Test Prep in Place of Middle School Arts Courses

ASD Middle School Art Work
Over the last 4 years our allegedly* cash-strapped SD, with school board approval, has cut over 400 teaching positions. This plan was called a "curriculum curtailment" and parents were told by district officials that the district had no choice but to cut teachers. Related arts courses, also known as "minor rotation" courses at the middle schools were cut by 50%. One art teacher is now shared by two middle schools. There are over 900 students at each middle school. We used to have 2-2.5 art teachers at each middle school. The "curtailed" courses include art, music, library, languages, health/PE, technology ed., and family consumer science. Students are being short-changed of a quality education.

Allentown SD middle school students used to enjoy a well rounded curriculum, with 2 related arts courses every quarter. Now the kids get only one minor rotation per quarter, and a class called "intervention and enrichment." In 8th grade, my son has had  PSSA test prep for 2 quarters (half the year) as his "enrichment" class. Parents were told that teachers would be doing special projects during enrichment class. When I expressed my concerns, the teachers told me they must teach test prep. I realize this is not the teacher's fault, but parents need to be aware of what is going on, and should speak up against this misuse of instructional time.  Cutting arts courses is bad enough, but then to add test prep in place of those courses, is just disgraceful.

* Recently, an extra $19.6 million in funds was discovered in the district's budget.  Local news media is reporting that number as $11 million, but the budget report shows an additional $8 million between Nov. and Jan. after an audit by the teacher's union. But ASD superintendent Dr. Mayo says there are no plans to restore the related arts teachers, (but they did hire a new arts administrator) and there has been no outside investigation of this shocking mismanagement of funds. No on has been fired. But there are plans to open a NEW career charter HS within the district, for 150 lucky students who win a lottery. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Claire Danes, Altered Image

Altered xerox, Cubist style
This is how I teach Cubism to middle school students. Make photocopies, color, cut in shapes, re-assemble, glue, and draw on top. I let them pick images of celebrities from a teen magazine.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The State of our School Music Program

I enjoyed watching my 8th grade son Gianni and the Trexler Middle School Orchestra perform at their annual Winter Concert. The band and chorus were also enjoyable. I loved the band's fun rendition of "Louie, Louie." This is my son's 6th year performing as a violinist. When he was in elementary school, he played piano as well as violin. He enjoys playing violin at school. The dedicated students, teachers, and parents should be commended for their commitment to keeping instrumental music alive in the Allentown SD. Students must attend early rehearsals at 7 am, before school starts, 2-3 times a week. It's a big commitment.

Over the past 4 years, the Allentown SD has greatly reduced its music programs, cutting related arts teachers as a short sighted solution to a budget crisis. Over 1/4 of staff has been lost over 4 years. At the middle schools, that's a 50% reduction in long standing arts programs that children need. One  classroom music teacher is stretched to cover two middle schools. Some middle school students won't have music class all year. A school's curriculum should reflect what a community values, and our city leaders tell us that the arts are a  centerpiece in Allentown's  "rebirth." So, why aren't the arts just as important at our city public schools? The reality is quite the opposite, and children who attend city schools are being short-changed.

Trexler MS serves approximately 1,000 students, but there are only 14 students in the orchestra. It seems like each year, that number gets smaller. The instrumental music teacher is stretched too thin, as are all ASD related arts teachers. She teaches both band and orchestra. Our small but mighty orchestra sounds terrific, but should be much bigger. I'd hate to see this program just disappear. These programs need community support, and moreTEACHERS. Arts enrichment and integration to replace certified teachers is insufficient. We need TEACHERS who connect with students, providing consistency and continuity. 

The ASD city schools are community schools, they anchor Allentown's neighborhoods, and need to be improved, not abandoned. Expansion of trendy charter schools to serve select students, currently drain $37.8 million away from our district schools.  Public education is a public service for every child. Traditional public schools don't  turn children away. Please vote for school board candidates who can see the bigger picture, who support improving existing schools, who are not afraid to take a stand and restore arts teachers across the district instead of building new experimental high schools at the whims of local corporations. Education is much more than just  job training. By participating in the arts, students learn skills needed to be successful in any career, but more importantly, the arts bring joy and meaning to children's lives right now.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why Choice Won't Improve Public Education

"My Old School Is Gone", mixed media collage, by Angie Villa
Many parents believe that school choice will improve public education. But the traditional public schools across our district are being starved, while new charter schools are fully funded, with no public oversight of our tax dollars. Our district schools would also be fully funded, and made viable choices, if this were a fair system. When parents say to me "I'm so glad I don't send my kids to ASD" This is my response: "I'm glad my child attends Allentown schools, and that I am giving back to my community by choosing to work as both a substitute teacher and a parent volunteer. The traditional public school accepts every child. These schools anchor our neighborhoods, and should be supported, not abandoned. There are some parents who keep their kids in ASD because they believe as a society we have a moral duty to protect the educational rights of all children, not just our own."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Working With Autistic Students K-2

These are torn paper fall trees, a lesson I taught to students in an autistic support room, grades K-2. I love the way each one is very different. I'm very happy with the results. I taught it very slowly, one step at a time. First tear the green grass, then the tree trunk, then the branches, and then add tissue paper leaves, on the tree, or background. The teacher hung them in the hall! Yay!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Paraprofessional Speaks Out: "This is the Job of a Teacher"

Paras help me teach my Pre-K lessons
I received this comment at an older post and felt that it deserved some attention. Thank you for sharing your story, Rachelle. The paras in Allentown SD start at under 12k per year, and are grossly underpaid and undervalued. Why isn't their union doing anything to help them get the pay they deserve?

" I have been a para in Missouri for 5 years (this coming year is my 6th). I was a SPED para for 4 years and was a classroom para (more of a teacher's aide) for the past year and will be again this year. Last year, I had my own classroom, which I decorated and managed, planned my own lessons, and took 9 reading groups of 6 kids each, 1 math class of 21 children, and 1 intervention group of 8 children in my day. Like any other teacher, I have a plan time in addition to my lunch--because I need it. I plan all of my own lessons for each reading group, on different reading levels, each math group and each intervention group. I go to the teacher professional development and provide anecdotal notes as well as data for teachers.

This job is the job of a teacher. I make less than 12K a year. I spend nights at home grading, working on lessons and free days organizing and decorating my classroom. Schools are realizing that if they call a position "para" they can pay whatever they want...and it's not right.

As a SPED para, I did as much work. I learned sign language for one of my kids, because no one gave him any kind of communication device and he was nonverbal. I planned his communication lessons, and rather than the SPED teacher, I was the one who met with his SLP and the district Autism Specialist about him. His mother addressed her notes to me rather than to his teachers. Again, I got paid next to nothing.

In Missouri, I am eligible for food stamps. It's not right that I do the things I do and still make so little that the state has determined that I cannot feed myself on my own salary. Not only that, but I often feel discarded because I am a para. At professional development recently, the end of the day came and an activity was still going on, a "team" activity, but an announcement came on: "Paras are dismissed. Activities will continue after you have clocked out." Why not just say, "Paras are don't matter and we don't want to pay you anymore."?

I have 2 Master's degrees in addition to my undergrad. I am an educated, smart person and I strive every day to make a difference to kids, but I cannot feed myself and clothe myself and put a roof over my own head. I fear I might have to quit because of these things...but the saddest part is, the district doesn't care. They'll hire anyone else with 60 college credit hours and say "whatever."
It burns me to the core to think of how undervalued paras are."


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Failure to Lead in Allentown SD

Where was admin. support for our elementary art show?
Our school board just approved more teacher cuts, another 98 positions on the chopping block, 406 positions eliminated since 2012. The vote was 6-3. See details here. And today, to add even more insult to injury, The Express TImes "Newspaper" decided to publish the names of  the teachers who are losing their jobs. Shame on the editors of that paper.

As a current substitute teacher, former ASD teacher, and a parent, I see the overall damage caused by the mass elimination of teachers. The decision to cut even more teachers is short-sighted and immoral. These cuts don't heal, children only get this one chance at an education. This is a failure in leadership of school board, and ASD central administration. 

This past school year my active 7th grade son was robbed of physical education/health class all year, because PE teachers were cut. No tech ed class for my son. The beautiful school library is dark, art and music teachers slashed to .5 teacher to serve over 900 students, but they keep piling on the reading/math, and other content classes, even though kids cannot concentrate at end of long day of seat work. This is a disservice to children, not age appropriate, it's even abusive. Teachers are stretched too thin. Schools have become unsafe due to understaffing. Kids are not happy. It's a failure to lead our district.

I taught art as a long term sub at 3 ASD elementary schools, seeing 2,000 students. These sweet children saw me only once every 3 weeks. I was unable to get to know them. But I do know that they are suffering because of cuts to related arts. Arts/PE programs are critical to a child's overall health and development. These programs have always been essential to public schools. They bring joy and teach important skills. These classes must be taught by certified specialists. So why is our superintendent, Dr. Mayo,  courting an arts academy charter school, for select "talented" young children, instead of restoring certified arts teachers so every child has an opportunity? I find his efforts to be immoral, and not in best interest of majority of students he serves. A real leader would be fighting, and finding ways to reinstate our arts teachers, to minimize testing, working to put a stop to unproven common core, which is diverting millions of dollars away from our classrooms. Dr. Mayo did not attend the opening of the elementary student art show, neither did our school board. In fact, the only administrator in attendance was the ASD's former arts coordinator, who is now an assistant principal. There were no administrators at the Trexler Middle School Spring Concert. Again, failed leadership, no real support for our arts programs, and demoralizing for teachers and students who work so hard.

Access to books is critical to improving literacy for children of poverty, yet our board approved cuts to librarians, with no plans to restore those positions. Failed leadership.

We need more Special Ed and Emotional Support help. Support is SO critical. Para professionals are paid less than 12k per year to start, while Dr. Mayo makes over 170k! And he plans on taking a salary increase this year! And there are plans to cut special ed teachers and paras. This is a failure to lead, and a failure to protect our children.

There is no shortage of funding for shiny new unproven common core textbooks and materials, a new STEM coordinator, supervisors of instruction, other administrators who don't work directly with students. Why isn't anyone questioning the validity of new standards? How will college and career  standards help our students? STEM is a joke, since science is barely taught in elementary school, and tech ed has been cut, librarians cut. ASD has narrowed the curriculum, cut teachers and essential programs, so how does this prepare kids for college? Where is the early intervention? ASD has cut vital Pre-K program. Another failure to lead our district, and mismanagement of funds.

Over $30 million being diverted to flavor of the day charter schools, which appeal to parents because these schools can exclude students with behavior issues, and they offer smaller class sizes. These new "schools" take more vital resources away from neediest students at our neighborhood schools. The charter schools may seem appealing and customized, but children should be offered a well rounded curriculum, they are too young to be focusing on a career path at school. And the high quality schooling that parents want for their own child, they should want for every child. Most charter schools hire young, inexperienced teachers, pay them less than traditional public schools, and don't provide special education or ESL services. They are run by non-educators, and overall, students at charters do not outperform students at regular public schools. Plus, these de-facto private schools increase racial segregation, and promote inequality. I try to convince parents to stay and fight to improve the neighborhood schools, which are a foundation of democracy, but few share my point of view, and ASD has become unsafe. I don't blame parents for wanting to protect their children. How long can we stay committed to a district the keeps cutting teachers?  

The larger political plan is to starve neighborhood schools, creating a need for charters, run by business men and huck$ters who know nothing about teachingMost charter schools are SCAMS. The "executive education" school is a joke, and it is inappropriate to train Kindergarteners to be business executives, and to teach primary grade children how to create spreadsheets. Why didn't anyone question the name and mission of this school? And I see they are heavily promoting their full day Kindergarten, for future "executives". They bought a curriculum at last minute, and ASD board approved the school. The school is based on a misguided goal- to meet Allentown's need for skilled workers in the new NIZ (Neighborhood improvement Zone). What if those jobs don't materialize? A school should be focused on meeting STUDENT needs.This is NOT public education. I don't know how any teacher worth their degree could support this school's mission.

 The community is being duped into believing that choice will benefit all children. What about the 700 homeless kids in ASD, how will choice help them? And busing kids out of their neighborhoods to charters does not help strengthen our community. ASD students must walk across dangerous intersections and long stretches because the district does not provide busing for majority of students. This is a failure in leadership at all levels of government, and Democrats no longer stand for democratic values and principles. Where is the shared humanity, the concern for the greater good? Where is the leadership? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Full Day Kindergarten Should Not Focus on Academics

Kindergarten art work
When I began teaching art in 1995, I was assigned to all three early childhood centers in our school district. This was before the NCLB and Race to the Top/Common Core education reform debacles. In the 1990's I helped to coordinate the DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practices) curriculum for the early childhood centers in the Allentown SD. What I see happening now in Kindergarten conflicts with how I was trained to teach, and conflicts with well established research in child development.

A full day kindergarten focused on academics is a bad idea and will cause more harm than good. And what's even worse is how schools target those so called academically "at risk" kids for full day K. Many of these children are not developmentally ready for a full day of school. Every young child should be given the chance to progress at his or her own rate. I don't believe children will fall behind if they are not reading and writing at age 5. The current misguided trend of imposing "college and career ready" standards in the primary grades, is completely absurd, and not age appropriate. These standards were not created by early childhood experts. Kindergarten is now like 1st or even 2nd grade.

When I attended Kindergarten, we played, snacked, and napped, we did not have guided reading or writing in journals. The teacher did not follow scripted lessons. There were no worksheets, benchmark assessments, or requirements to learn 100 sight words. We weren't constantly tested and timed for nonsense word fluency. The teacher did not sit at an overhead projector, she sat at the piano. There were class plays, dress up, dolls, blocks, kitchen sets, hula hoops, jump ropes, singing, show and tell. There was a big slide right inside the classroom! These are the things I remember.  I was ready for 1st grade. I turned out okay. Young children need time to play and explore. They naturally want to play because that's how little kids learn. Five year olds should not be forced to stay in their seats and then scolded for not being able to sit still. The focus of Kindergarten should be socialization, adjusting to being at school, and building a foundation for literacy.

Seems like full day K was designed to help parents more than children. I don't care what the research or data says about standardized test scores, or how children of poverty benefit from full day K. I see the same behavior issues in every full day K class that I have taught. They cannot sit still. They cry because they are frustrated and their little bodies need to move. The expectations are unrealistic. Let them play. All full day K programs should include an afternoon of napping, snacking, unstructured play, outdoor recess, singing, dress up, toys, blocks, painting at easels, and the classrooms should be set up in this way. That's not happening, and it's a tragedy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Example for Van Gogh Lesson

This is a piece I made to use as a teaching example for a 1st grade lesson on Van Gogh. The vase is cut out from construction paper, and then I used oil pastels on blue construction paper. Please see right sidebar for more examples of my art work, or search label "art work by Angie Villa." Unfortunately I folded the paper to make it fit in my bag! I LOVE oil pastels, and use them often with my students. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kids Need Art Class Once a Week

3rd grade landscape, Van Gogh style
I've been assigned to a long term subbing position teaching art at 3 elementary schools in the Allentown School District. I will teach 2,000 students. Elementary students have art class with a certified art teacher only once every three weeks. I am seeing first hand how children are suffering from reduced related arts at school.  Children should not be expected to sit quietly all day long in over crowded classrooms working on "rigorous" math and reading content in order to prepare for tests. When the adults in charge fail to make sure the arts are an essential part of the school curriculum, children suffer and grow up with no understanding of how the arts have value. We must return joy to learning, and put an end to dehumanizing testing and standards centered education policies. Education should be student centered, and students must be given opportunities to discover their talents at school. To see more examples of student art work, please search the label "student work" at this blog. Thanks.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cutting Librarians From Allentown Schools is Undemocratic

Back in 2011 I wrote about the Allentown School District's short sighted decision to cut school librarians to balance the budget. Click here to read the post. Since then, even more librarians have been slashed, and currently there is only 1 librarian to serve 15 elementary schools, and the district has eliminated two of the four middle school librarians. The two remaining are teaching six classes a day, three at two different middle schools. They are not able to do their regular librarian duties as they are teaching full time. My son's school no longer has a book fair or before/after school library. When I spoke with my son's librarian at Trexler Middle School, she said that her role is very different this year. While her title is that of 'librarian', she is actually a full-time related arts teacher and her schedule does not allow time to work in the library.

Allentown SD is an 89% low SES/high poverty district where access to books is important to offset the impact of poverty on learning. Independent reading greatly improves literacy. These deep cuts will not heal, and our children only get this one chance at an education. They must be given opportunities to choose books at school, right now.

How can schools prepare children to be informed and engaged citizens in a democracy without access to books at school?  It's undemocratic and immoral to cut librarians in schools that serve poor children, while schools that serve more affluent children employ full time librarians. Library funding should be increased, not decreased, in Allentown SD, where it is needed the most. My 7th grade son has taken out one book this entire school year. And it is unfair that our children will be denied a Book Fair this year.  The Book Fair is a fun family/school event that children look forward to all year. Children should never suffer because of budget cuts and bad decisions by school board.

At a recent Trexler Middle School PTA meeting, parents expressed their concerns about the library.  I encouraged parents to attend school board meetings and to speak up. Parents must demand reinstatement of certified librarians. Any state funding must be used to bring back librarians. Legislators must hear from parents. Every building should have a full time librarian. The library is the HEART of the school, it should never be closed! There will be no "renaissance" in Allentown without fully funded and fully staffed school libraries!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Friday, December 20, 2013

No More Charter Schools in Underfunded Allentown SD!

4th grade student work, ASD
The arts are mandated by the Pennsylvania commonwealth as core subject areas, and have always been essential to the public school curriculum. Experiences in the arts should not be reserved for select "talented" young children, who must audition to attend the "arts academy" charter school, while other young children suffer at schools where arts have been nearly eliminated. Charters promote inequality, and drain funding from traditional public schools. 

Every child benefits from a quality art education, including disadvantaged children who may struggle academically or behaviorally. Every public school child should see a certified art teacher at least once a week. Charters can cherry-pick students, weakening community schools that have always anchored our neighborhoods. Shame on politicians from both parties for promoting efforts to privatize public education, instead of fully funding Allentown SD schools, for the greater good. The best "choice" is a fully funded, fully staffed neighborhood public school. These long standing schools should be strengthened, not abandoned.

Charter schools are business ventures, motivated by profit. The arts academy founder plans on expanding his school model to other states. Charter schools are not really public schools because they don't have to follow the same rules as public schools. It's not a level playing field, so you cannot compare charters with traditional public schools.

 Allentown school board directors should be focused on reinstating related arts teachers across the district and restoring our arts programs to what they were 4 years ago. No more charter schools in ASD! Currently ASD spends $19.6 million on charters, while barely able to deliver a basic education. Students are suffering in over crowded classrooms, with minimal opportunities to engage in creative learning activities. They are not developing an appreciation for the arts.

Thank you board members who voted AGAINST the charter school: Joanne Bauer, Ce-Ce Gerlach, Debra Lamb, Ellen Bishop, Bob Smith, it was denied!!!

UPDATE 1/30/15  The ASD board has now approved this charter school. Currently $37 million is being diverted to charter schools.  Ce-Ce Gerlach voted for the charter school. What happened to her arts resolution? Disgraceful!!! Arts for some, test prep for the rest. We need new leadership.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Charade of Urban School Reform

The following scenario is playing out in urban schools across the country, not just in Allentown: 

With continued reduction/elimination of art, music, social studies, library, electives, and physical education in urban public schools, kids have become unhappy and unhealthy. Implementation of tougher, unproven "college and career" standards, with increased and harder testing, in chronically underfunded and understaffed urban schools has resulted in these worst practices: For example, 12 year old children must sit for 7 periods of "rigorous" content classes per day. Teachers have told me that many young students are drained, have trouble concentrating in the afternoon, due to this developmentally inappropriate schedule and narrowed curriculum. Kids need breaks, daily exercise, and time to be creative at school. 

Teachers see that kids are drained, but per orders from central administration, they must pile on more reading, math, science content during "intervention and enrichment" periods. Teachers must comply to keep their jobs, and are observed closely by administrators, and told how they must teach the enrichment class. Teacher morale is low. Parents are not happy. Children suffer and hate school.

Charter $chools are expanding to make up for the loss of arts/activities, further draining funds from  neighborhood public schools. The Allentown SD currently loses close to $20 million to charter schools. This number is expected to go up to over $25million next year. This creates an unequal, undemocratic public school system, where the arts are reserved for the chosen elite. And expansion of charters promotes racial and socio-economic segregation. The best "choice" is always a fully funded, and fully staffed neighborhood school. Don't believe the rhetoric that choice means equality. 

 Certified arts teachers are being fired, while supervisors of instruction,  PR director, and more administrators are being hired. Grossly underpaid and undervalued paraprofessionals keep school libraries open for elementary students to select books. The Allentown SD now has only one librarian for 15 elementary schools, in an 88% poverty/low SES district, where access to books is critical to reducing effects of poverty on learning. Middle school students rarely have an opportunity to take out library books. Cheaper outsourcing of arts, and bogus arts "integration" is being implemented, instead of hiring certified teachers. Our district spins this as "developing the whole child." Our superintendent is once again conducting a study to determine MINIMAL staffing needs, when he should be working on finding ways to restore what has been lost. Over 4 years, ASD has cut 371 positions, and there is a possibility that 94 more will be cut next year. Schools that serve impoverished children need much MORE than the minimum, in order to meet needs of students.

What can we do? Without a mass joint effort of parents, teachers, and students protesting at every school board meeting, I believe there are 2 things:

 1: Parents can write/call local state legislators and demand that strings are attached to any money from the state, so that the money must be used to reinstate teachers. We must by-pass the Allentown School Board, and central administration, because they continue to ignore pleas from parents, and they continue to hire more overpaid administrators, while cutting essential teachers, and implementing unproven initiatives. State Rep Mike Schlossberg and Senator Pat Browne must hear from parents en masse. And vote out current school board members who approve cuts to teachers.

2. Opt your children out of ALL standardized testing, Go to Lehigh Valley Opt Out on Facebook, or UnitedOpt Out the National Movement for more information. Deny the politicians the flawed data that they are using to label schools, teachers, and students as failures. Say "not with my child!" End the charade.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Leave the Arts Alone!

Joy of painting (Kindergarten lake scene)
The geniuses with no teaching experience who developed the unproven common core standards only see value in the arts at school when arts are attached to their dumb  standards. Check out this document written by David Coleman, president of The College Board, architect of the common core standards, never taught a day in his life, and has no art or art education background, but he is telling art teachers how and what to teach! He's a haughty pontificator! The reformy geniuses are even developing ways to measure the arts using data driven instruction, with the support of duped/sell out arts organizations who want to keep up with the "era of accountability" in education.  Check out this "arts advocacy" blog that promotes common core and standardized testing in the arts.

These pompous corporate hacks who developed the CCSS (David D-Bag Coleman, Gates, etc.) don't even understand that certified art teachers already reinforce academic concepts, teach across the curriculum for deeper meaning, incorporate art criticism, assess during the lesson, and challenge students while using age appropriate methods. Leave the arts alone! What a huge waste of time and money. We don't need your stupid common  core, just let us teach! And just let the kids enjoy learning! Experiences in the arts should never be "rigorous" or standardized!! Art has so much value in and of itself. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Malala: Growing Peace

New art work I am donating to the Allen HS Arts Academy Alliance's annual "8x8 Event" art auction to raise money for arts programs at Allen High School in the Allentown School District. The opening is on November 13th, 2013 from 4-6:30pm at Muhlenberg College. Baker Center for the Arts. I chose Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani girl who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban while trying to get an education, as my subject. I think she is a great role model for students, and she should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, even though she is a young 16 year old girl. She is planting the seeds of peace and equality by standing up for her human right to an education. It was difficult working on such a small canvas (8"x8") because I felt a bit constricted, and because I think large work has a bigger impact. I wanted to portray her as being soft, yet very powerful. The color green as a symbol of youth, growth, and hope. The flowers, also symbols of growth, are cut out images of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a mixed media/acrylic painting on canvas. I hope someone wants to buy it!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Intervention and Enrichment"

7th grade wire sculpture
 "enrichment - act of making fuller or more meaningful or rewarding"

Allentown SD middle school students used to participate in 2 related arts classes per school day. This year, they only get one related arts class, and the extra period is now being used for "intervention and enrichment." Related arts classes have been reduced by 50%, due to budget cuts and bad decisions by school board and ASD central administration. Currently, there is .5 art teacher to serve each middle school. There are over 900 students at Trexler Middle School. The .5 art teacher teaches three classes at Trexler, and then travels to Raub MS to teach three more classes each day. Some ASD middle school students will not even have an opportunity to see a certified art teacher at all this year. When I taught art in ASD (2001) we had 2.5 art teachers per middle school. Then it was reduced to 2, then 1, and now .5 over the past 12 years. What's next? NO art teachers?

 My son (7th grade) will not have tech ed or family consumer science this year (two classes he enjoys) and will not have any physical education until 4th quarter. He has not had an opportunity to take out a library book. There are plans to hire paraprofessionals to work in the libraries, so students can take out books. Right now, enrichment class is used for extra reading, math, or science. The principal at Trexler has told me that since this is a new class, they are still figuring things out. So, as they figure things out, our kids miss out. Also, they are finding out which kids need "intervention" based on test scores and grades. I think ALL kids should have enrichment. It's not right that the kids who are struggling academically are excluded from enrichment. The school already offers free after school tutoring.

Middle school students need breaks from seat work. 7 periods of seat work per day, with only a short lunch break and no recess is not developmentally appropriate, and it is not healthy. The ASD's expectations of "increased rigor and college readiness" are unrealistic. 12 year old students do not need to be ready for college and career, or for competing in the global economy. They will burn out, misbehave, hate school, and not even want to go to college if ASD continues to pile on more reading and math, while decreasing related arts (also known as narrowing of curriculum). It's just a BAD idea, and it is the opposite of the district's stated goal "to develop the whole child." All kids, and especially those who struggle academically or behaviorally, need opportunities to discover their talents and strengths at school.

As the PTA artist in residence chairperson, I told our principal that the enrichment period lends itself to  possible residency opportunities. Residencies should be supplemental and provide enrichment. Residencies should never take the place of certified arts specialists, who are trained to teach a high quality, age appropriate, and comprehensive arts program. Last year we had poetry and visual art residencies that went well and reinforced concepts learned in class. But I do not feel comfortable with a residency unless it is initiated by the teacher.

 ASD must reinstate all certified related arts teachers immediately in order to truly work towards their goal of developing the whole child. I blame central administration and our school board for approving cuts to related arts teachers and essential programs. Our kids only get this one chance, and right now they are being denied a well rounded education. We don't need more administrators, or testing. We need more arts teachers. Our legislators must attach strings to any money given to ASD from the state, to make sure that the money is used to reinstate arts teachers. Parents, call representatives Pat Browne and Mike Schlossberg and tell them you want strings attached to the money. We must take back our schools. We must demand better leadership at all levels of government.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Young Kids Don't Need to Be Ready for College

My son, ready for 7th grade, just turned 12 yrs. old
Could someone please explain to me why it is so important for middle school children, ages 11,12 and 13 to be ready for college? I looked at my son's textbooks and they are from the College Board, to prepare kids for AP, PSAT, SAT, etc. With so much focus on who we want kids to be in the future, we lose sight of who they are right now- they are KIDS. Let them be kids and let them enjoy their childhood. My kid has to sit for 8 periods of seat work, and he told me that by 7th period he cannot concentrate. Kids need breaks, exercise, and activities every day to be healthy. I don't even think adults could sit for 8 periods a day. The expectations are unrealistic. This is why I don't like Common Core and "rigor". 

"Common Core’s whole focus is pushing children to college. Shouldn’t it be about learning today? Shouldn’t it be about giving children the chance to enjoy the here and now?

Ask yourself, with the school push to college, what is your student missing ou
t on with their journey through life today? Will they later hate school because they missed out on the joys of childhood? Let’s let our children be children. It goes by much too fast already."  Nancy Bailey

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dishonesty Is Not Best School Policy

The Allentown School District's new goal is to "develop the whole child" and provide a well rounded liberal arts education to all students. This goal will be impossible to reach without an adequate number of certified, highly qualified teachers, and consistent programs that build a strong foundation for the arts. This goal cannot be reached while narrowing the curriculum and robbing children of  opportunities to discover their talents at school. This goal cannot be reached while changing hundreds of teacher and principal assignments. Dishonesty is not the best school policy. Parents need to know the truth. How does reduced arts help develop the whole child? I thought that developing the whole child was always the goal of ASD? The only thing that is "well rounded" about ASD is the bloated salaries of incompetent administrators.

The ASD has greatly reduced its related arts (art, music, PE, library) offerings taught by certified teachers, and has completely eliminated elementary school librarians. For the last 2 years, young students saw a certified art teacher only 9 times per school year. This year, there will be one art teacher for every 3 elementary schools, working on a crazy rotation schedule. Middle school related arts will be reduced by 50%. The district almost completely eliminated the elementary related arts staff, but at the last minute got some money from the state, and a few of the arts teachers were saved. This will be the third year of reduced arts. There have been hundreds of changes to teacher and principal assignments, which adds to the instability in our district, and is especially harmful to disadvantaged children. These changes will also negatively impact the quality of arts education. These changes negatively impact the student/teacher relationships which are built on trust and respect, and which are necessary for students to succeed.

Instead of finding ways to fully restore arts teachers and provide our students with the same opportunities as neighboring suburban public schools, ASD superintendent Russ Mayo supports a new "arts academy" elementary charter school, for select talented youngsters. Opportunistic charter school operators and local business/real estate moguls are positioned to fill the ASD's arts/PE educational gap. As an art educator, I believe an "arts academy" for elementary students is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money because all young students should have access to quality arts programs at traditional public schools. The arts should not be reserved for the elite. Public schools are supposed to promote and preserve equality of opportunity.

Charters, either for profit or so called non-profit, can pick and choose best students, follow different rules than regular public schools, while funneling public money into private coffers with little public oversight. Applying business/market principles to public education has led to fraud and cheating. Charters are really private schools since they can skim best students. Public schools accept all children. And school choice rarely benefits disadvantaged students, it actually increases racial segregation and destabilizes urban neighborhoods. We must preserve and strengthen the existing neighborhood schools, since they are the anchors of the community. Mayo is promoting inequality and he should be fired.

It appears that the new website and a new ASD Facebook page (to promote the new school uniform policy) is the work of the new PR director/spin doctor, recently hired by ASD at a salary of 88k, twice a teacher's salary, while arts teachers were cut. A move that speaks to ASD's misplaced priorities. We know what the students will be wearing this coming school year, how about telling us what they will be learning? Here's a link to the website page:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Children Must Not Feel Pain of Budget Cuts

My son and honor student at the Trexler MS Science Fair
I have contacted members of the Allentown School District board and advised them on what to do with the $9.6 million in state aid: My advice is to do what is morally right by students, and use the money to reinstate teachers. Arrogant and divisive board member Scott Armstrong is dead wrong when he says that we all must make sacrifices. Children should never have to "share the pain" of budget cuts. 

The community has spoken, Brave parents have made passionate pleas at several packed board meetings. We have rallied, and we have written letters. Some of us have been very active and dedicated to this cause since the first round of cuts to related arts 2 years ago. I have met with Dr. Belardi ( salary $132.5K) and other top administrators to discuss my concerns about the harmful narrowing of curricula. The Muhlenberg PTA met with Dr. Mayo (salary $170K) and presented a resolution to restore the arts and he told me "don't treasure what can't be measured." Appalling!

 The majority of board members, and many administrators have ignored parents. ASD school board director David Zimmerman said that teachers are the "lowest priority" in our school district budget. Board member Scott Armstrong said that given rising pension and other employee costs, he does not support restoring any teaching positions and would put the entire $9.6 million in state aid toward restoring reserves and reducing the tax hike. They must immediately be removed from our school board. 

There should be no debate. Providing a quality education to our children, as mandated by the state's constitution, is top priority, and ASD cannot fulfill the state's obligation without teachers. Robbing children of their education in order to reduce taxes is criminal. And only the worst criminals rob children. There should not be a two tiered public education system where urban students sit in overcrowded test prep factories, while other kids enjoy the arts and a safe, rich learning environment. Armstrong and ZImmerman are promoting inequality! They should both "share the pain" of being booted off the board and publicly shamed for their cruelty to children.

Parents, it's time to get angry, be a badass, and take back our schools! There is strength in numbers! Write letters. Speak up, speak loud, and speak often.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dear ASD Board: Use $9.6 Million in State Aid to Reinstate Teachers

Student work ASD

 Dear Allentown School Board Director:

I am writing to you as a concerned parent. I am concerned about my child's future and the future of our school district. All ASD students must be provided with a quality public education, as mandated by the state constitution. Students must be your top priority, regardless of the dire financial situation of ASD. There should be no debate about priorities.

Please make sure the $9.6 million in state aid is used to reinstate teachers. My suggestion is to start at the elementary level to bring back librarians. Full restoration of related arts in middle school, and at all grade levels is of utmost importance as well. Middle school children should not be forced to sit for an additional period of reading and math test prep while parents are told this is "enrichment." I have had enough, and will not stand for the implementation of anymore schemes to improve test scores while the curriculum is narrowed.

Please end data driven instruction, high stakes testing, and other highly flawed methods that do not improve academic achievement, and diminish a child's joy for learning. The ASD administration's business model approach to education does not motivate or engage children. Children are not data points, they are human beings. ASD students need year round art, music, social studies, physical education, and library taught by certified teachers. ASD students deserve the same well rounded education as children from neighboring suburban districts. Anything less is an injustice and disservice to children and community.  Please do what is morally right by children and reinstate the teachers to our schools. Thank you for your service.

Angie Villa