Ridgefield Public Schools Board of Education
United States of America

As taxpayers and citizens of Ridgefield, Connecticut's First Cultural District, we call for a renewed commitment to a quality curriculum and adequate funding for the visual arts in Ridgefield Public Schools. This is particularly needed at the elementary and middle school level, where resources are unequal to those in other essential subject areas. Ridgefield is a town that prides itself on its outstanding arts institutions and school system – both strengths have been recognized in national and local press. It could be argued that these two qualities are, in fact, why many families choose to live here. We submit that our children deserve the same commitment to a quality arts experience and education in the RPS system. #QualityArt4RPS

National leaders agree that Art is a core subject that should receive the same level of staffing and resources as other core subjects. The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in 2015, includes the arts in its definition of a “well-rounded education." The National Art Education Association provides further guidance on how this should play out, beginning with a strong education at the elementary level, equal access for students of all abilities and backgrounds, and high school graduation requirements.

Yet the visual arts are sorely under supported in the current RPS budget and school system at the elementary and middle school levels, with significantly less staffing and instructional hours than those afforded to other essential subject areas within the district. Thankfully, this situation improves at the High School level, but students who progress through the current curriculum will arrive at RHS with an impoverished education in this subject area and will therefore be behind. On this point, the NAEA is clear, ““High school graduation requirements are predicated on all elementary and middle school students having access to a comprehensive, sequential visual art education program taught by effective educators who are certified/licensed in visual art."

While we recognize that improvements were made in the 2021-22 budget cycle in response to community concerns, there is yet more work to do and this was promised in the 2/8/21 meeting minutes. Yet we do not see any changes in the proposed 2022-23 budget, which suggests 4.0 Art teachers to be shared amongst the six elementary schools, with about 500 students per teacher. Other essentials have double or more the staff.

In the elementary schools, students have lost a total of 6.6 hours of instructional minutes per year as compared with the pre-2020 cuts. Furthermore, some teachers are responsible for two schools and several more Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students than any teachers in other core subjects. This presents an undue burden. In the Middle schools, Art is only offered for half of the year (not the case for Music, PE, or World Language), and teachers are responsible for up to 400 students. Also, due to these time constraints, teachers do not have the luxury of engaging with our local arts organizations for field trips, such as the Aldrich or Weir Farm.

Finally, this inadequate situation is not commensurate with the district’s stated mission and vision of the graduate. No matter how talented, experienced, or capable they may be, Art teachers who are pushed to this extreme cannot bring any of these qualities to their art instruction. Furthermore, they cannot teach in a manner that encourages creativity and innovation in each student at the level that is meaningful and challenging to them in their individual growth.

The Arts are unique in their ability to encourage innovation, creativity, expression, empathy, compassion, and to encourage mental health. Not only do these qualities align with the stated goals of RPS, but they will also be in increased demand as we move further into the 21st Century. Furthermore, due to recent traumatic events, our students need the outlet and opportunity to grapple with their emotions and understand their own and others’ viewpoints, which the Arts are uniquely capable of providing.

We call for the following measures be adopted in the 2022-23 RPS budget and curriculum, and into the future:
1. Reinstate former levels of staffing per student at the Elementary level (as existed in the 2019-20 budget cycle)
2. Provide a year-long arts curriculum at the Middle School level, adding one more teacher, for a total of 4.0 certified staff
3. Provide basic instructional hours equal to those provided for other essential subject areas at the elementary and middle schools.
4. Provide adequate staffing for a RISE art program to be offered at all schools and for all students who qualify.
5. Provide adequate staffing for an honors art program to be offered at all schools and for all students who qualify.
6. Provide adequate staffing, funding, and curricula guidelines to allow students and teachers to take advantage of our rich local visual arts organizations, including field trips.
7. Provide adequate staffing to support yearly art shows in each of the schools and downtown, once conditions allow it.

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The Quality Arts Education for Ridgefield Public Schools petition to Ridgefield Public Schools Board of Education was written by Sarah Hanley and is in the category Education at GoPetition.