We won’t clam up.
We oppose the 31 per cent cut of high school performing arts classes. We offer proposals that will hold off those cuts and strengthen performing arts without raising our taxes. Will you help us?
Hopefully many of you saw the high school’s production of A Chorus Line. Folks say it was a joy to see the extravaganza where 70-plus students (majors in theatre, music, science, math, literature, language, football, culinary arts, history etc.) sang, danced, leapt and generally lit up the stage for an evening of wonderful entertainment. More than 1,000 people attended performances.
The musical was the perfect venue for Minnesingers and BravEncore (music and theatre booster groups respectively) to read a statement and to speak out about next year’s cuts to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School performing arts department.
Our statement, approved beforehand by principal Margaret (Peg) Regan, asked for support in holding off those cuts for one year while our organizations work with the school’s administration to evaluate the importance of performing arts within our schools, to strengthen the performing arts department and to seek new roads to funding through grants and fundraising outside the school budget.
At the end of the statement, the audience was asked to sign petitions supporting our initiatives to place articles on town warrants supporting performing arts in Island schools. Hundreds of people signed the petitions. Those signatures are encouraging and a positive thumbs-up from the community for our effort.
As parents, we feel an obligation to speak out where the superintendent, the school committee and the school administration are reluctant to do so. If not Minnesingers and Bravencore, who will speak for the arts?
The statement, written by Howard Marlin, a member of both Minnesingers and BravEncore, outlined our efforts and warned the cuts of next year would eventually lead to a greatly diminished performing arts program. Responding to the content of our statement Dr. James Weiss, our school superintendent, reportedly said, “The sky isn’t falling — and clearly that is the message he [Mr. Marlin] was trying to give out.”
We agree — the sky is not falling. In fact, I believe it is Dr. Weiss who more closely ties in with the fable by responding to a declining school population as if, indeed, the sky was falling. It is a nationwide reality: the mini-baby-boom is ending in our school populations. But there are different ways to view any number. In 2008-09 our high school will have 700-plus students, an ideal number, according to current research, and not a justification for a 31 per cent cut in classes and a 50 per cent teacher pay cut in performing arts.
I am a member of the theatre support group BravEncore. I encourage Dr. Weiss and his administration to remember the many school committee meetings we have attended, all open forums where parents and students heard from those proposing cuts to the performing arts. The majority of school committee members, the superintendent and his administration voiced their support of all proposed cuts to next year’s high school performing arts program. At those same meetings, 100-plus of community members spoke against those same cuts.
Here are details of the proposed cuts: out of the 22 classes offered at the regional high school this year in performing arts, seven will be cut next year. The cuts are balanced only in that all three disciplines of the department (music, theatre and television) will be affected. The classes are traditionally small and open to all: students seeking college majors in the performing arts as well as, for example, math majors seeking to fill their souls with music or science majors expressing their dreams through Shakespeare.
Which classes will disappear next year? Voice class, advanced theory portfolio class, piano class, just about music class, audition workshop class, scene study class and television II class will be cut. Currently students receive 2.5 credits for each of the above classes or a total of 17.5 credits combined. The administration has consistently referred to these classes as “private lessons.” These accredited classes are not private lessons and have never been viewed as such by our students or the colleges to which they apply.
The performing arts department continues to serve all of our students from kindergarten through grade twelve. Performing arts, in immeasurable ways, help students to prepare for successful lives, to express themselves in ways outside of their comfort zone, to experience expediential growth through performance and to become that well-rounded student sought by colleges looking beyond core academics and test scores.
Please ask your school committee representative and your town selectmen to do what they can to reinstate the teachers and classes to be cut from high school performing arts next year. BravEncore and Minnesingers are asking for a year’s time to work with the high school administration in evaluating the best course of action for the performing arts department allowing students, teachers, parents and community time to weigh in. We also ask our summer residents to help us.
Interested in learning more? Visit bravencore.org and click on About BravEncore. You will be able to leave a comment and/or join our e-mail list for updates. Thank you.
Valentine Estabrook is a resident of West Tisbury.