Franklin County Schools Art-Music Teacher Dilemma

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At a special called May 28 workshop, the Franklin County School Board grappled with an administrative decision about art and music instruction at Broadview, Cowan, North Lake and Sewanee elementary schools. By the proposed plan for the 2024-2025 school year, each school would have a Fine Arts/Discovery teacher to teach both art and music. Echoing experiences recounted by her board member colleagues, Sandy Schultz said she had been “bombarded” with phone calls from concerned parents.

Director of Schools Cary Holman said the decision was due to a teacher shortage and was suggested by the principals at the four schools. Cowan and Sewanee shared art and music teachers on a weekly rotation for the 2023-2024 school year. Broadview and North Lake had no art teacher, in spite of the district listing a posting for an art teacher throughout the year. Both schools filled the time slot with a substitute teacher.

“It’s not just in art and music that teachers are leaving the profession,” Holman explained. “It is not a Franklin County issue. It is a national issue.”

North Lake Principal Sherry Sells said the art teacher previously assigned to the school on a shared basis “moved on.” Sells cited how difficult it was for a shared teacher to “build community” at both schools. Other schools had full-time teachers for both music and art, Sells commented.

“Having someone to share would be fabulous,” said Broadview Principal Rhonda Stevens, but acknowledged the national teacher shortage made that unlikely. Explaining the proposal to hire a Fine Arts/Discovery teacher to teach both art and music, Stevens said, “Someone to nurture the love of art and music was our goal.”

Board member Sarah Marhevsky pointed out the job description for the Fine Arts/Discovery position made no overt reference to teaching art or music.

Rebecca Van de Ven, who taught music at Cowan and SES, declined taking a position as a Discovery/STREAM teacher at Cowan position because she could not clarify to her satisfaction what the expectations were. “Maybe they didn’t actually mean for me to do science experiments, maybe I only needed to connect music and art to science and math,” Van de Ven commented when contacted by the Messenger. Van de Ven subsequently accepted a position teaching music at Clark Memorial.

Shultz said the vague job description could result in teachers with only a regular elementary certification taking the position “because they need a job. Teaching both art and music would be an astronomical undertaking.”

“Taking art and music out of the job description says something not good about us,” said board member Sara Liechty. “We need to spread the message we support music and art.”

Board member Casey Roberts pointed out if she were a music or art teacher searching for a job, a position listed as Fine Arts/Discovery might not come across her radar screen. “You won’t catch what you aren’t fishing for.”

“The beauty of making music is that it activates more parts of your brain simultaneously than any other activity, including math,” said Van de Ven emphasizing the importance of music instruction beginning at an early age. Liechty read an account written by a former student who credited his music instruction at Decherd Elementary with fostering “cultural awareness, empathy, creativity, collaboration with his classmates and academic excellence.” Shultz gave the example of a blind and autistic child who thrived as a consequence of his music instruction at Broadview Elementary.

Liechty suggested a semester-by-semester rotation for art and music teachers. Shultz said based on her experiences as principal at Broadview Elementary, semester by semester was too long, students would forget what they had learned. Schultz also noted the semester-by-semester method meant a school with no music the first semester would have no Christmas program, disappointing to parents.

SES Principal Allison Dietz said she would love full-time music and art teachers, but she would be “willing to share.” Dietz suggested a nine-weeks rotation as an alternative.

“It was never the intent to make anyone feel art and music are not valued,” Holman insisted. “All four of those principals would love to have both music and art teachers.”

The Fine Arts/Discovery position would be reposted specifying a preference for art and music certification, Holman said. The district currently has no positions posted for art and music teachers, acknowledged Human Resources Supervisor Roger Alsup.

Holman said having both full-time music and art teachers at all four school would require hiring four more teachers.

Marhevsky proposed the district pursue making opportunities available for people skilled in teaching music and art to become certified.

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