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For Jana Winders, music teacher at Lucama Elementary School, the next school year may see a vastly different approach to education.
Due to state-mandated class-size requirements, Winders, and other music, art and physical education teachers, may face the loss of their classroom spaces.
Winders may be asked to teach from a rolling cart, going classroom to classroom toting along musical instruments and other curricular materials.
“I know it would change drastically,” said Winders. “To me, it’s all about creating a culture in a school, and this classroom is a safe place for these kids. I don’t want to say it’s a break for this kids, but it’s a change in environment.”
On Monday night, the board passed a resolution asking the N.C. General Assembly to slow implementation of class size reductions saying requirements could have a heavy impact on students’ access to art, music and physical education classes in the 2018-19 school year.
LEARNING IN MUSIC CLASS
Winders and a group of third-graders joined in a circle Tuesday and picked apart the instrumentation and thematic passages of the Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker Suite.”
The children could see on the wall the face of the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who wrote the music they were listening to.
And they could see the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the child prodigy who had written five symphonies by the time he was 9 — their age.
Elsewhere in the room were miniature marimbas, congas, tambourines and a piano among other instruments.
That environment would be entirely different if Winders had to tote all of those items along from one class to another and from one school to another.
“If I’m made to be on a cart or go in between schools or my time is shortened and these kids don’t get to do what you just saw in my room, their education is affected,” Winders said. “As art, music, PE teachers, we’ve been core subjects for many years. That’s just gone out within the past year, but for me, we are still a core subject.”
Winders said she is a firm believer in educating the whole child.
“Without art, music, PE in this environment, I think we are doing a disservice to our kids,” Winders said. “If I am going into a classroom where there are desks, kids can’t move. I can’t drag all of these instruments. My standard course of study that I have to teach is greatly affected because I can’t do my job effectively, and I think their education will suffer.”
The Wilson County Board of Education wants to keep that from happening.
Reading from the resolution, WCS Superintendent Lane Mills said proposed class size maximums for kindergarten through third grade levels “will result in the loss of flexibility to generate state funding” for teaching positions in program enhancement courses like art, music, physical education.
Even if the General Assembly moves forward with its intent to create a new funding stream for program enhancement teachers starting in 2018-19, there will still be classroom space and staffing challenges.
“An immediate reduction in the K-3 class size maximum will worsen what is already a very difficult environment for Wilson County Schools” the resolution said. “The reduction would cause Wilson County Schools to have to look more closely at the allocation of enhancement teachers and support personnel throughout the district.”
The mandate would increase the number of physical classrooms required at these grade levels, adding to an already staggering list of capital needs in the district and anticipate needing two modular units at $85,000 a piece and/or renovations for additional classrooms.
“Wilson County Schools may have to convert art and music rooms into traditional classrooms and have those teachers travel from room to room with a cart to deliver program enhancement classes in traditional classrooms, which doesn’t work well with unique aspects of art and music education,” the resolution states.
The board unanimously passed the resolution requesting the General Assembly to slow implementation of class size reductions “through a multi-year phase-in that allows time for the legislature and school districts to address the challenges.”
“Knowing the challenges that we face, I think that this is a needed piece of information that attests to what our future needs will be,” said Chairman Christine Fitch.
In an informational class size guidelines presentation WCS assistant superintendent Eric Davis said the 2018-19 requirements would mandate the maximum class size for kindergarten at 21 children, first-grade classes at 19 children and second- and third-grade at 20 students.
“Coming into this year for 2016-17 and 2017-18, we added 13 teachers,” Davis said. “Moving forward, for our 2018-19 requirements, that’s another 13 teachers we will have to add.”
Teachers would be added among the district’s 14 elementary schools including four at New Hope, three at Lucama and two at both Jones and Rock Ridge.
“It’s a very difficult scenario for any school system, so it is a concern for us, and we have to be very careful about how we staff schools, where positions are being utilized, how they are being utilized because this is going to be very, very tight for us to manage within the state allotment and not have to match that or find those positions locally because we don’t have the funds locally,” Mills said. “This is a very challenging scenario.”
Some 13 additional classroom spaces will be required with two portable classrooms that may have to be added at Rock Ridge Elementary.
“Currently, our art, music and PE are funded out of our state teaching allotment. Next year we won’t be able to do that,” Davis said.
Wilson County Schools has 30 program enhancement positions serving the elementary schools.
“There has been discussion in the legislature about providing some funding for these positions,” Mills said. “We have not seen that for this year but there has not been discussion for next year; however, we don’t know what that funding would be.”
“We have no idea what the legislature is going to do when it goes back into session in January,” said Fitch. “That’s one of the reasons that we just passed a resolution asking for a delay. But with delay comes an eventual reckoning. We just have a lot of uncertainty at this point. But we still have to plan and move forward.”