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As our community listened to the last school board meeting, we were momentarily pleased that Superintendent Elizalde walked back the budget/scheduling debacle in middle and high schools. Momentarily, because that’s how long it took to realize that the new budget/scheduling proposal would be “on the backs” of elementary specialists in Music, Art, and PE. First, please know there are many discussions from and with Essential Area teachers about how this proposed change will impact the experience and the learning for students. Please listen to these professionals. The implication from AISD central office leadership implies that art and music students will experience a “deeper dive” into their content in hour long classes. A sixty-minute class is not appropriate for students of this age. By lengthening the class period while simultaneously reducing the number of class days, the result is a 20% reduction of instructional time both in Music and in Art. Further, a Monday-Friday plan leaves students in an Essential Area class on a Monday or a Friday with significantly less classroom time while simultaneously lengthening the gap between classes from one week to two. Many of our administrators and teachers have worked with the three -day rotation for decades. It is unfortunate that so many upper administration leaders new to Austin have not yet been able to grasp how this system creates equity of access for all elementary students. Challenges to the rotation are based on confusion and the desire of adults for a simple and clean M-F system, regardless of how it impacts students. The current plan serves the needs of students.

The new proposal amounts to a full-scale attack on a 40-year legacy crown jewel of AISD that is the envy of other states and districts. Our current 3-day rotation schedule has been zealously protected by the AISD School Board and the Austin community for the past 30 years. through the “Standards of Service” document created in collaboration with principals, the Visual and Performing Arts leaders, Health & PE, as well as leaders from both the academics team and the school leadership team. It has been our guiding document. The current 2021-22 document reads: “Instruction in Music, Art, & PE will be provided through a three-day rotation (music, art, P.E.) throughout the entire school year. Variations of this format (i.e., block scheduling, 4-day rotation, etc.) are not an option.”

It is unfortunate that this document has yet to beadded to local policy/regulation, leaving our “standards” to fall prey to whatever district leadership chooses to do. The School Board will be forced to radically change this document under the new plan. We are requesting the School Board use all means at their disposal to make sure these changes are NOT implemented. The district has created a false sense of urgency around their implementation of this plan, and make no mistake, it is their plan. The fact that they are now saying that all options are open is another example of them retracing their steps after the community learned of their scheme. Creating a sense of urgency reinforces existing power hierarchies that use the sense of urgency to control decision-making in the name of expediency. This is one of the many “Dominant Societal Standards and Antidotes” mentioned in the district’s own “Centering Equity & Cultural Proficiency” workshops currently underway. Here is another example of leadership not following the practices they teach. As current leaders speak about being aware of this plan from data before the pandemic, it is doubly unsettling to imply that this decision is so urgent and important that this drastic change is necessary. Tell AISD to slow down and move at the speed of trust.

That trust can only begin to be rebuilt through true collaboration. Music and Art will lose basically an hour a month of class time - 9 hours total, OR 20% OF THE CURRENT INSTRUCTIONAL TIME ALLOCATION. However, this amount of lost time must be expanded to reflect the amount of re-teach time that will be required to try to move ahead instructionally on state mandated TEKS. Seven (or more) days between instruction periods will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cover the TEKS and keep on track with meetingthose state requirements. The Art and Music teachers would have one class at a time but see their students less often. The children will miss out on fundamental and foundational skills they benefit from with the current three-day rotation model with frequent access to Art and Music instruction. The students stand to miss out on favorite experiences such as sculpting with modeling clay, painting, fairy houses, learning to play the recorder and other instruments, or a beloved holiday musical performance. The decreased time with students leaves Art and Music teachers with less time to build those crucial relationships with students. The impact to FINE ARTS LEARNING programs will be felt throughout each child’s life. As these programs build on one another into middle and high school programs, the loss of foundational skills currently mastered in elementary school will have a chilling downstream effect on Art, Dance, Band, Orchestra, Choir, and Theater programs. Elementary students will no longer leave for their MS and HS music programs with the same level of proficiency as they have for the past 40 years. The devastating impact year after year of this terrible new approach will have a traumatic impact on every Visual and Performing Arts program.

We have been here before. For example, in a difficult past moment in the history of music instruction in our state, it was the HS bands and their parents who saved music instruction from completely being eliminated from the elementary school day. Now, we seek to save our high-quality Music and Art programs once again. At the root, if this is about test scores and closing the gap, let us sit down and look at the data, research, and planning that central office has used to create this plan, and weigh it againstthe wealth of research and data that tells us unequivocally that simply giving students more time in the arts improves test scores, reduces behavior issues, keeps kids engaged at school and reduces dropout rates.

Across all grade levels, students enrolled in arts courses attend school more regularly. High school students who complete more arts courses experience the greatest benefit of this access. They are twice as likely to graduate high school, 22% more likely to attend college, and are 15% more likely to meet the commended status on standardized tests than students with fewer arts courses.

Yes, under the proposed plan, students will have PE every day, which unquestionably is better for them. The plan not only meets the state requirement but almost doubles it. Lately district leadership is saying that other districts are doing it and so we can do it too, only better. Those other districts planned staffing and gym sizes with larger class sizes from the start. but the crux of the issue is that

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