Back to the drawing board

After nixing one redesign, Chico educators look for another creative solution

Chico Unified School District’s fine-arts program for elementary schools is facing a dilemma—and, surprisingly, it is not a funding issue, but a scheduling one.

To learn about visual arts, music, drama and dance, students leave their regular classrooms once every three weeks to attend a 135-minute fine-arts class. Instructors like Liz Mosher teach 26 to 28 classes in a 15-day span before switching to a new unit. These sessions give the core teachers the only preparation time they get during school hours and provide students with the only artistic education they receive.

The problem is that students are pulled from specialized reading groups and intervention programs, set up to comply with the No Child Left Behind act, in order to attend their scheduled arts lessons.

“It’s difficult for a teacher to teach effectively when half the class gets up to leave for an art lesson and the next day the other half leaves,” said Ted Sullivan, principal of Chapman Elementary. “The students also suffer in missing that reading lesson.”

Sullivan is by no means undervaluing the importance of fine arts; he only wishes his school could have a program that allows time for both.

The Chico Unified School District considered changing arts education for this school year. To reduce disruptions, fine-arts teachers would have concentrated their units and visited more schools less frequently. A team of five to seven instructors would go to a school for a day and a half, then move on to the next. So Mosher, who now works at Emma Wilson, Marigold and Chapman, would become an art teacher at 10 schools.

Teachers expressed reservations, so the proposal was shelved. On top of having to spend a great deal of time and energy on transporting themselves and their equipment, fine-arts instructors would have had little time to get to know the staff and students at so many schools.

“It takes a lot to make students feel comfortable expressing themselves in an art lesson,” Mosher said. “They need to know and trust us to make that happen.”

While the rescheduling idea may not have worked, something’s got to give.

Carolyn Adkisson, who became the district’s director of elementary services July 1, says that principals, classroom teachers, fine-arts teachers and district officials will collaborate to create a schedule that makes everybody happy. Mosher and other teachers plan to meet on their own time to brainstorm innovative ideas.

“The goal,” Adkisson said, “is to create a delivery model that will provide a quality and well-rounded education to the students.” The deadline is March 1, 2008, and Adkisson is confident it will be met.

Sullivan also is optimistic, he says, because this is really the first time CUSD is working as a whole to address this problem.

“It’s a district-wide program,” he said, “so what works for one school needs to work for the others, as well.”