Art Attack at Lapham School

From The Capital Times, Monday, June 6

Changes coming in music, art classes
The arts hit hardest in teacher layoffs

By Cristina Daglas
June 6, 2005
Lapham Elementary School music teacher Lynn Najem and art teacher Sally Behr will keep their jobs next year, but their classrooms won’t be what they have been.
Next year, both Behr and Najem will be teaching classes of approximately 22 students in comparison to the previous 15.
The total number of students they teach is not increasing, but the number of classes offered is decreasing. The approximately 230 kindergarten through second-grade students at Lapham will remain the same.
“They think of us as fancy recess … a holding tank,” Najem said. “This is typical of the School Board.”

In the wake of a failed referendum question two weeks ago, the Madison School Board approved 23 layoffs, reportedly the highest number in more than 10 years. Music positions accounted for the greatest number of those positions, 8.5, followed by physical education teachers with 5.3 and art teachers with 2.5. Friday was the deadline for teachers to get layoff notices.
At Lapham, there will no longer be enough equipment to go around for all of the students in Najem’s music classes and she said trying to get young children to share time on a keyboard is not easy. More importantly, both Najem and Behr worry about the amount of attention they can give to each student.
“Special needs kids are not going to have a place to excel,” Behr said, adding that many students often find expressive outlets in the arts rather than in math class. “We catch a different part of them.”
And there are greater musical opportunities at Lapham than in most schools. Najem recently orchestrated an “Alice in Wonderland” production with 49 students.
“I’ve had people come to this school because of the drama program,” Najem said, adding that it is funded through other organizations.
Between them, Najem and Behr have 27 years of experience, but they still fear that future cuts could push them out of their jobs.
“Because I am not full time, I’m low on the totem pole,” Najem said, adding that while she qualifies for benefits right now, additional cuts in future years may change that. “You know that there will be cuts next year.”
Behr reiterated this fear, stating that when she started in the district 10 years ago she was teaching at 80 percent time and this upcoming year she will be at 50 percent, the minimum level required to receive health insurance benefits.
“For some reason it keeps coming out of the arts and I don’t know why,” Behr said, adding that the cuts are “very disproportionate.”
Despite their frustration, both teachers said there is still much to be thankful for. They haven’t had to switch schools or leave the district, allowing them to continue to work with the same families.
“You have such an investment in your building. I love the kids and the families,” Behr said teary-eyed, adding that art classes challenge students. “Every lesson we raise the bar. That would have saved me in elementary school.”
Years ago, Lapham was home to a full-time talented and gifted teacher who offered a number of classes allowing students to excel in their particular interests, according to Behr. Lapham also employed a teacher devoted to teaching computer classes.
“We just had much more in the building and it’s eroded,” she said. “We’re the last fun thing and now we’re going too.”