Due to incorrect information circulating, there is a lot of confusion about the status of music and the arts in our schools. In fact, some are suggesting that Atlanta Public Schools simply eliminated all music and arts in one fell swoop.
We have not.
APS is one of the few districts in the state that offers band and orchestra programs, and this will continue to be the case.
Here’s the synopsis: Next school year, there will be 10 fewer band teachers and eight fewer orchestra teachers. But there will still be approximately 40 band and orchestra teachers serving our schools. Some elementary schools will be sharing teachers (as they do now), and others did make the decision not to offer band and/or orchestra usually in situations where there were few students enrolled in those classes. Those schools are instead using their staffing allocations for positions elsewhere in their school based on the needs of the students. Every elementary school will continue to offer a general music program, and band and orchestra programs will continue at the middle and high school levels.
For those who like more details, there is more backstory. APS is continuing arts and music, but we did make reductions against a set of standards of service, which all schools and clusters must work together to meet.
It was, indeed, a tough budget year for APS, due in part to the entire district being over-staffed and to limited resources. Reductions were made across the district two months ago, not just in music and fine arts, to realign teacher numbers at each school with actual enrollment. As part of our right-sizing strategy, we cut 368 full-time positions, nearly 20 percent of which came from the central office.
In our cluster planning and our move to a new operating system, APS has given clusters and schools more freedom and flexibility to choose how they staff their schools in order to meet the specific needs of their students. This includes the decision about which arts and music instruction to offer students.
For example, if principal A observed high interest in band over orchestra in their elementary school, that principal could choose to enhance the band program and remove the orchestra program. If principal B saw a growing interest in visual arts, principal B could decide to invest more in visual arts, eliminating band and orchestra. If principal C was interested in enhancing band and orchestra programs, principal C could choose to increase school class sizes in order to offer a more robust fine arts program.
Thus, it is incorrect to state that APS is taking away band and orchestra from schools. We are giving schools the choice to incorporate these fine arts as part of their general music instruction, which includes chorus, music appreciation, introduction to instruments, etc. and to be the masters of their master schedules. At the elementary level, all of our schools must provide general music, but band and orchestra are optional offerings. As outlined by both APS and state standards, band and orchestra are offered as elective classes in all APS middle and high schools. In regards to other fine arts, we will provide, at the minimum, visual arts at all school levels— adding performing arts in high school.
In making these critical staffing decisions, it was important to us that the decisions were made on the front lines at the school and cluster levels, not at the central office. Principals had increased decision making through this process; however to be fair, they were working within very tight budget parameters.
As an oboe player as well as an avid lover and supporter of the arts, I truly understand the importance of these programs to our students. I will do all I can to keep them as part of school district focused on providing a quality education at the highest levels of efficiency.