Concerned about impact on the arts, phy ed

As many of you may know, the school board and Superintendent Mark Bezek are currently proposing many changes to our district that, I feel, are not beneficial to our students. According to Bezek, “change may be an opportunity for growth.” However, for the first time in my 10 years of teaching in the Elk River School District, I am concerned these proposed changes jeopardize the future by not moving the school district in a direction that is beneficial to our students.

Currently, the School Board and superintendent are proposing a six-day rotation of specialist time at the elementary level. This schedule would add one hour (per every six school days) of technology in kindergarten through second grade and increase to two hours of technology (per every six school days) for third through fifth grade. The result of this proposal, if enacted, negatively impacts other subjects.

• Art will decrease to only 29 hours for the entire 2014-15 school year. This equates to only three art classes per month. Compared to now, which 34 hours per school year, or four days a month. Four days a month is too little already.

• Phy ed and music would also be dramatically reduced from the current 68 hours per year to 56 hours in grades K-2 and 42.5 in grades 3-5. Elementary art will go from 34 hours per year to 29 hours.

If the proposed plan is approved, students would often have only one hour of gym for the entire week.

These significant reductions would make any extra Art Nights or concerts nearly impossible. Technology class, on the other hand, would be almost double the amount time per year!

I am not opposed to adding technology into our classroom. I truly believe technology can be a great learning tool for our youth. I have attended many Technology In Education Conferences and the emphasis for technology in our schools is embedding the technology into our current classes to aid the learning process. This allows a student’s creative thinking strategies to be enforced not only in education but also in “tomorrow’s” job market. Technology-leading school districts, such as Minnetonka and others, embed technology into classrooms and current standard curriculum classes.

Why do our district and committee members feel that having a technology specialist is necessary at the cost of other subjects, rather than emulating the best practices demonstrated by other school districts by embedding technology in the classroom as a learning tool?

My other concern is the message we’re sending our youth when physical education is all but eliminated from their daily curriculum. Nationally, the health of our youth is at a critical state. How can we, in all good conscience, decrease phy ed when the today’s youth need it more than ever? Adding technology classes in our school would increase the amount of “screen time” students receive on a daily basis, which is already out of proportion to the amount of physical activity our youth receive daily. Any teacher or parent would agree students need more physical activity for overall health, not to mention it’s a physical release and outlet for many students. While some students are involved with healthy extra-curricular activities, I believe that these students need the strong health reinforcement that is supplied by their schools as a supplement to their after-school activities.

In addition to the negative impact on some subjects, another serious concern is that steps are already being taken to add these technology classes without adequate input from the parent community. Additionally, the School Board and committee do not have an answer as to who would teach the class and what kind of qualifications they would need. Perhaps just as importantly, the curriculum has not been created, so we’re unclear as to how this subject will meet the needs of the students. I am unsure how a school board and superintendent can approve this decision with so many unknowns and potential secondary and tertiary negative implications.

Bezek claims these changes will make our school district more appealing and draw new students or keep current students from transferring. However, I disagree and believe that having a strong art, music, and physical education program is an enormous benefit and will help retain current students as well as entice new students to the Elk River district.

Elementary-aged students are not the only victims being affected by the proposed change. There will be budget reductions to other subjects such as health and family and consumer science (“home economics”) in Middle School in addition to decreased phy ed requirements at the high school level.

If you agree with my position, the time is now to contact your school representatives. Please send emails, ask questions, attend School Board meetings and make your voice heard during open forum at those meetings. Voice your opinion! The School Board and committee need to hear from parents! It is your children that will be affected unless you voice your concern. Otherwise, the board will assume their actions are accepted and “approved.” Leah Schultz, Zimmerman