BROOKSVILLE — Blame it on testing pressures or a lean budget, but the arts face unprecedented challenges in Hernando County schools, with programs shrinking or disappearing altogether in recent years.
On Tuesday, the School Board agreed to stem that slide, boosting the arts program next fall at one school intended to be a district leader: Powell Middle School.
Back in 2000, Powell was designated a magnet program for the performing arts and Micro Society, in order to continue the enriched offerings provided at a nearby magnet school, Chocachatti Elementary. But gradually that focus was lost, said curriculum specialist David Schoelles.
"In the past few years, some of those programs have disappeared due to the shifting of staff, or due to the need to provide students with remedial services," he said. Just last year, such pressures led to the end of Powell's dance program.
The board agreed to reinstate a full-time dance teacher position, as well as full-time art, drama, and band director positions. It must ratify that decision with a formal vote at a future meeting.
Such staffing would allow the school to add stringed instrument programs to its band offerings, Schoelles said. Other county middle schools offer many of those programs, like band, but with less depth than what's being planned for Powell.
Three of the new positions would be paid for by eliminating the Micro Society coordinator and assistant positions at Powell, Schoelles said. The drama position would cost $57,000 with benefits, and the board would need to install a dance floor for $35,000.
"We're going to trade the home (economics) position for the dance position," added principal Earl Deen.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander said the moves fit with his call for a continuum of programs. Students who excel in areas like the arts should have schools where they can progress from kindergarten through graduation, rather than be set adrift in middle school, he said.
Board member Pat Fagan asked whether the dance program could be contracted out to a private provider, but Alexander advised against it.
"You get exactly what you pay for, and only what you pay for," he said, describing the student support and professional demeanor — not to mention state funding — provided by a certified teacher.
Left undecided was the question of arts at the high school level. Board member Jim Malcolm said he wanted to see an inventory of offerings at the four high schools before deciding on options for either consolidating or boosting those services.
"I don't see us doing dance at every high school," he said. "I don't see doing chorus at every high school."
Alexander predicted hard choices for the board as it tries to stretch its budget while providing popular programs like band and drama to each high school. Every high school and neighborhood will want to keep chorus, band, marching band, drama and other programs, he said.
A few schools should provide enough depth in those programs to create "the best of the best," Alexander said. But it might be beyond the district's capability to do so at every high school.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.