Math vs. arts, gym 
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 25, 2005

Tight Kyrene budget tests board's options

Colleen Sparks

All in a day, how can a school boost students' math scores, build fit children in gym classes and teach them Spanish, music and classes that prepare them for real life?

Parents, teachers, administrators and others on a Kyrene Elementary School District committee are strategizing on how the district can juggle all those needs within a tight budget.

It has been a heated issue among parents, who say they fear cutbacks in art, music and physical education classes in their children's schools.

The K-8 Programming Study Committee at an all-day meeting last week asked many questions and offered ideas for how the district could set up the art, music and physical education classes in elementary schools. The group also debated the ideal times and structures of math, language arts, Spanish and exploratory classes such as band, in the district's middle schools.

A recommendation could go before the governing board as early as late February. "I want everything for every child," said Kelly Alexander, who is principal at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School and a committee member. "Decisions are being made in a caring and thoughtful manner."

The committee did not make any formal recommendations at its meeting Friday, but eventually plans to make them to district Superintendent Maria Menconi. Most of the ideas would be subject to the governing board's approval before they could take effect.

More than 20 people, including many parents, listened to the committee members, and some said they were disappointed they didn't get a chance to publicly address the group. Some filled out comment cards that the committee routinely reviews at the beginning of meetings, but their questions or comments weren't addressed.

The K-8 committee is evaluating the district's programs to ensure that they are effective in helping students achieve and yet help the schools be cost efficient. The schools must prepare students for the AIMS or Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards exam and other standardized tests, school officials say.

The committee split into groups to express its opinions about several different proposals, most of which would mostly reduce at least one area: art, music and physical education in elementary schools.

Then committee members voted on whether they endorsed, opposed or mildly opposed or supported the ideas.

Votes were mixed on the different options with most committee members saying they didn't like the idea of cutting art, music or PE classes.

They all wanted each district elementary school to have the same early-release day. That would allow teachers across the district to plan lessons and projects together.

Now two district elementary schools do not have early-release days, where students leave early.

A group that included Alexander, parents Sheila Ahern-Rhodes and Jeanene Valdez and instructional aide Patti Benster said it favored a configuration that would offer first- and second-graders PE and music for 60 minutes a week and for third through fifth-graders reduce PE and music to 90 minutes a week on a two-week rotation. Art would be offered 50 minutes a week for third- through fifth-graders.

"You can letter in art," Ahern-Rhodes said. "Some kids are phenomenal artists."

A committee that develops proposals for the K-8 committee gave a presentation showing what a middle school day with seven class periods, one fewer than the middle schools have now, would look like.

The idea would be to reduce the times students meet for art, PE and other "exploratory" classes from twice to once a day and give students about 90 minutes of math.

Changing Spanish from a regular class that seventh- and eighth-graders must take to an exploratory that would meet for only nine weeks at a time drew some concern from parents and committee members.

"If we're really looking at the future of our children, we need to at least make them bilingual," said Elizabeth Saba, Kyrene Centennial Middle School parent during a lunch break. Nine weeks is not enough to learn the language, she said.

At the next meeting, administrators hope to answer questions that were posed by committee members.

The K-8 committee will next meet at 1 p.m. Thursday at the district office, 8700 S. Kyrene Road in Tempe.