A recent forum by the Arizona Commission on the Arts opened a discussion about the state of arts education in local schools that highlighted changes being made by stabilized Miami Unified School District leadership after years of turnover in its administrative ranks.
The Arts Commission presentation at the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts on March 22 was one of 10 discussions with underserved communities in southern Arizona, a follow-up to an initial effort last November.
Commission representatives sifted through information gleaned from those discussions and brought pre-determined questions to get feedback for a finalized report the Commission expects to release in May.
Discussion at the forum centered around a consensus that teacher and administrative workloads, combined with sparse resources — specifically minimal school funding throughout the state — are the main problems within the system, not only in the Globe-Miami area, but statewide as well.
But according to one local educator, the information the Commission used to determine how dire the local arts situation might be was out-of-date.
Upon reading about the forum in the Copper Country News, Miami High School Principal Glen Lineberry reached out to the Silver Belt and forum organizers to get clarification on numbers reported in the lead-up to the forum.
“It’s an interesting story of how old data was unintentionally mischaracterized,” Lineberry wrote in an email to the Silver Belt. “Aside from being out of date, the data was just wrong.”
A press release by the Arts Commission stated that “According to a report published by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Arizona Department of Education, 34 percent of students attending Globe-Miami public schools have no access to in-school arts education taught by highly qualified teachers, compared to a statewide average of 11 percent who have access.”
The study was conducted by independent research firm Quadrant Research and can be found at www.artseddata.org. An interactive online tool can be found at azarts.gov/census-explorer/.
Lineberry took issue with the data though, pointing out that Globe High School has art and music programs, Lee Kornegay Middle School has music, and Dr. Charles A. Bejarano Elementary School has art. Additionally, the Arts Center has a theater program — led by Paul Tunis, an alum of the Globe school system — that reaches out to all the schools in the area to bring theater arts to the schools.
He also cited changes in the local school systems in the years since the Commission’s report was published using data collected from the ADE’s Highly Qualified Teacher database for the 2012/13 school year.
“The term Highly-Qualified Teacher is an official designation in this case,” Steve Wilcox, communications director for the Arts Commission responded. “One may be highly qualified, but not officially certified as such with the Department of Ed.”
Wilcox went on to add, “While technically accurate, at least as of 2012-13, the statement included in the press release to Copper Country News, at best, lacked sufficient nuance and context.”
According to Dustin Loehr, one of the representatives from ADE leading the March 21 forum, a new report using statistics from 2014-2016 should be released soon and that data will have different parameters than the previous report.
“Highly Qualified is no longer in federal guidelines,” Loehr said. “It was part of No Child Left Behind, [but] that was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act.”
ESSA was passed in December 2015 by the Obama Administration and was intended to reduce federal control of local school systems and give more control to the states.
In the wake of that legislation, Arizona altered its teaching certificate standards in order to address a looming teachers crisis that is expected to get worse.
Yet despite the many problems facing school systems throughout Arizona — particularly in economically challenged areas like Globe-Miami — the MUSD has made strides toward improvement the past three years, after many years of steady decline.
Lineberry brought those changes to the attention of Miami Town Council the week after the arts forum, demonstrating the progress that can be made by a cadre of dedicated educators implementing policies to improve student behaviors and educational outcomes.
“There’s a lot to criticize at rural public schools in Arizona, but at our school we have a full-time HQ arts teacher and a full-time HQ music teacher, plus programs in poetry and filmmaking,” Lineberry wrote in an email. “Heck, we require an arts credit for graduation plus a semester of art for all freshmen.”
He told Miami council that despite receiving about half the funds that urban schools in the more populous regions in the state, about $6,000 per student per year, steady leadership is reviving a once-vaunted school system.
“It’s no secret that population declines in Miami have hurt,” Lineberry said. “But we’ve had steady leadership for the past five years: Previously, there was turnover on 2-year cycles.”
Since Sherry Dorathy has become superintendent of Miami schools, there has been a 9 percent increase in attendance and the schools have put curriculum in place to prepare students for the world outside of Globe-Miami, whether that means college or finding a place in the modern workforce.
“We’ve banned cursing and require humanities and we’ve developed a complete emergency plan,” Lineberry said. “We’ve tripled college and job applications. Real change is painful and probably has to be,” he added.
There have also been significant improvements to facilities that will be on display during an open house for the community at Miami High School on April 30 from 5-7 p.m. There will be a brief welcome and update at 5 p.m. and the Miami High School culinary class will be serving hot dogs, chips, cookies and water for dinner.
For information about the open house, call 928-425-3271, or go to www.miamiusd40.org.