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Teachers lament cuts in art, music instruction

When Linda Shilk took the microphone before the Lewiston-Porter School Board, the tone in her voice was serious.

A new schedule rolled out at the elementary level this year means students will have 30 minutes for music and fine arts classes -- not enough time to make an impact, she said.

"Last year we had 40 minutes; this year we're down to 30," said Shilk, who heads the district's music department. "What's 10 minutes? A fourth of our contact time with students. We cannot meet our benchmarks for music on this schedule."

She was joined at Tuesday's board meeting by fine arts department chairman Brett Coppins, who questioned why students have more time for lunch than for fine art instruction.

But district administrators say worries over the new schedule are missing the overall picture, that it will shorten the length of some classes but result in an increase of overall time devoted to music, arts and technology enrichment.

"We didn't diminish the time for art and music instruction," Superintendent R. Christopher Roser said. "But it is going to be delivered somewhat differently."

That includes interdisciplinary instruction, where traditional academic subjects will meet the arts, such as exploring the role of fractions in music.

The new enrichment program, a 10-week program for students in third through fifth grades, is still under development but is expected to begin next semester.

"This is going to give teachers an opportunity to not only teach in isolation," said Intermediate Education Center Principal Tamara Larson, who helped develop the new schedule. "We know it's better for kids to see interrelated learning. They will achieve higher when that happens."

The schedule will move from allotting 40 minutes to arts every six days to 30 minutes on a daily rotation, including art, music and technology.

When the interdisciplinary program begins, there should be 330 additional minutes of arts instruction available to students per week -- "more art and music than ever," Larson said.

The change has been met with both praise and complaints from parents and features a start time pushed ahead by 15 minutes.

District officials have faced heavy constraints in developing the new schedule. The schools were required by the state to begin offering physical education every day, and Lewiston-Porter has one of the shortest school days in the region. New literacy and math programs demand 60- and 90-minute blocks of time.

Kevin Jaruszewski, head of the Lewiston-Porter teachers union, raised concerns Tuesday that teachers and community stakeholders were not consulted about the new schedule.

Larson said the schedule had been discussed with teachers and alternatives -- including making fine arts and music instruction available after school -- were rejected.

"We were fine-tuning this schedule all summer long and teachers were given opportunities to give us schedule proposals," she said. "We just did not receive any."

The new schedule is not unchangeable, said Roser, who said the district will continue to listen to feedback for next year.

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