Parents plead for board to restore arts education

Maggie Jennings implores the Macon County School Board to restore arts in the schools.

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

Macon Middle School hasn’t provided art classes for students in nearly a decade. Three years ago, the middle school lost its chorus position – not because there aren’t qualified individuals for the position, but because the school district made the decision to use those funds elsewhere in the budget.
Members of the community lined the walls outside of the Macon County Board of Education meeting room on Monday night, all waiting to plead with board members to re-invest in the school district’s arts education.
“Having arts in the schools is instrumental for our students’ development,” said Maggie Jennings, a Macon County Schools parent. “From helping with their mental health to putting them in the same level as children across the state, even the country, our students need… no, they deserve the arts.”
Jennings was joined by another parent, Sarah O’Neal, who spoke on behalf of a grassroots movement referred to as ARTS for MCS. The group has been brainstorming ways to gets art education classes back into schools and on Monday night came armed with a three-year proposal which included adding seven art and music classes, building a new Fine Arts Center at Franklin High School, and purchasing modular units for two overcrowded elementary schools who are slated to lose the space they currently have dedicated for art and music.
Jennings and O’Neal presented board members with a request to fund a part time arts coordinator for Macon County Schools in the coming fiscal year. In addition to a program coordinator, the group asked for new positions for both art and music on the elementary level, an art position at Macon Middle School, and afterschool chorus class for elementary students, and for the district to commit to providing well-equipped programs with supplies to be able to provide art and music to students.
Macon County Schools currently does not provide art or music classes for preschool classes, something ARTS for MCS wants to see change as part of their three-year vision. The group also advocated on behalf of Union Academy, the county’s alternative school, which does not provide music or art opportunities to students.
Providing statistics on how music and art impact a child’s overall educational experience and academic success, Jennings’ implored board members to take the presentation into the school district’s budget planning process and prioritize their request.
Another focus of the presentation was on how Cartoogachaye and East Franklin Elementary are slated to lose the classroom they have dedicated for art and music in the next year or so due to mandated legislation.
“The North Carolina Legislature has mandated smaller class sizes and for us to be able to do that, we will need extra classrooms to put those teachers to be able to lower the class sizes,” said Macon County Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “So at East Franklin and Cartoogechaye, that will be in the music/art room.”
Jennings noted that since they are losing the dedicated classroom space, both East Franklin and Cartoogechaye will still have art and music once a week, one the first semester and the other the second half of the year, but the art and music teacher will be on a cart that travels from room to room.
Macon County Board Chairman Jim Breedlove said that the presentation would be considered during the budget planning process, which is just beginning.