Monday, June 14, 2010

Replacing arts magnet program with JROTC angers parents and students in San Antonio

I was in San Antonio this weekend for a wedding and happened to pick up a copy of Friday's issue of the San Antonio Express-News. The Metro section's front-page headline story was "Parents protest changes at TJ: Arts magnet to be ended; focus on JROTC."

According to the article, a highly regarded arts magnet program at Jefferson HS in San Antonio is scheduled to be phased out in 4 years, and part of the replacement emphasis will be on "leadership training," including a requirement that all incoming students enroll in a JROTC program beginning this fall.

School district officials say that in conjunction with ending the arts magnet program, they plan to increase arts offerings in other schools throughout the district, but why must this be an either/or situation? Why not keep the magnet program and build on its success by increasing art class options in other schools?

If the concern is funding, then do school officials know that JROTC programs are costly for the district? Have they been clear with parents and students about the reasons for and actual costs of introducing JROTC at Jefferson?

Parents and students expressed strong objections to the changes. One parent was quoted saying, "I don't think we need any of our students or sons and daughters dying in wars that we don't even belong in." Another parent said, "Militarizing this school, it's a bad idea."

At SOY, we agree. JROTC uses a top-down, follow-orders type of discipline, which is not the same as developing self-discipline, which is much better learned through the arts. Do district officials want to graduate students who learn creative problem-solving skills through strong education in the arts and sciences, or students who learn that "leadership" means either following or giving orders?

Here's the article:

Parents protest changes at TJ: Arts Magnet to be ended; focus on JROTC
by Lindsay Kastner, San Antonio Express News, June 11, 2010

A plan to boost fine arts offerings across San Antonio Independent School District high schools has angered parents at Jefferson High School, where the Grammy-recognized Fine Arts Magnet Academy is scheduled to be phased out in four years.
The shifts are part of a long-range facilities plan and will allow for more robust course offerings across the district and improved academics and leadership at Jefferson, where incoming freshmen will be required to take JROTC starting this fall, district officials said.

But parents and staff are unhappy with plans to do away with the district's only fine arts magnet, the only magnet program to be phased out in a plan that mostly involves adding or streamlining programs. Next year will be the last year freshmen will be allowed into the program.

During a community meeting at the school Thursday night, trustee Ed Garza, who represents the Jefferson area, tried to calm fears by emphasizing that no staff or course offerings would be eliminated under the new plan.

“I'm a very strong advocate of arts for this school,” he told a crowd that included parents and students clutching artwork and hauling canvases.

In the fall, Jefferson will begin requiring all incoming freshmen to take at least one semester of JROTC, district spokeswoman Leslie Price said earlier Thursday. Garza said the requirement, while likely to be taught by a JROTC instructor, was actually for a separate “leadership” course.

Next school year only, students enrolled in the fine arts magnet will be exempt from the requirement. That exemption ends as the magnet is phased out.

After their freshmen year, Jefferson students will be required to choose between a “military prep” program in which they will continue JROTC or a “leadership and public service” track in which they must join a campus leadership organization and complete designated public service hours.

“I don't think we need any of our students or sons and daughters dying in wars that we don't even belong in,” a father said from the audience as Garza explained the school's new leadership focus Thursday evening.

“Militarizing this school, it's a bad idea,” said another parent.

Most parents at Thursday's occasionally tense meeting were more upset about the loss of the school's arts magnet.

Garza said unlike other magnets, the Jefferson program isn't offering courses that are unique to the school. Students take arts courses that are available at many other district high schools and though the program has some enrollment requirements, it is termed a magnet largely because it actively recruits students from outside school and district boundaries.

The school “has never been a true magnet,” Principal Joanne Cockrell told the crowd, adding, “You're talking about something that never has really existed except in name and the fact that you are allowed to go around and recruit.”

Price said the district wants to boost its fine arts offerings at all of its high schools, but having a magnet that draws students from outside the school boundaries can make it difficult to grow strong programs elsewhere.

“That can diminish the offerings at some of our smaller schools,” she said.

About half the 246 students enrolled in Jefferson's fine arts magnet come from outside the school's zone. Price emphasized that eliminating the magnet will only mean the school will no longer be able to recruit those outside students.

But parent Virginia Guzman, who helped organize the meeting, said part of what makes the magnet special is the commitment students make to the program.

“The kids in the magnet program, they want to be there,” said Guzman, whose son just graduated from Jefferson.

“I don't have a kid going into the program, but I would like to see TJ brought back up to speed,” said Guzman, who graduated from Jefferson in 1979. “Good school, good kids, good community, right? And that's what I would like to see.”

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