20180509 a school specials graphic

Teton County School District No. 1 officials will clarify plans tonight for staffing elementary school special classes.

“Specials” include art, music, PE, computer, library and, for students not in the dual immersion program, Spanish. Superintendent Gillian Chapman told staff in an email April 16 that while the district had “hoped that we could hire specialists to staff MMES [Munger Mountain Elementary School] and make no changes at our other schools ... the impact of legislative decisions have changed our ability to fund this.”

The idea of sharing teachers between schools that currently have their own dedicated specials teams prompted parents to wonder: How many students will each specialist teach? How many classes a day will they be responsible for on top of travel time? And how will this affect learning?

Although the school district confirmed that administrators have a plan to present, officials would not discuss its specifics with the News&Guide before the school board meeting tonight. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the district office, 1235 Gregory Lane.

“It is being presented to staff but not all staff have yet been informed,” information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds wrote in an email Monday. “We are not able to share the information with the media before we share with those directly affected.”

At least 10 letters were sent to the school board advocating that the number of minutes students receive in these subjects remain unchanged and that additional staff be hired, if necessary. Letters to the school board are public records and can be found online.

Some letters were joint efforts, one of which was signed by 17 specials teachers who teach at district elementary schools. They were told they would be given a survey asking whether they would prefer to split time between Jackson and Wilson elementary schools, Colter, Kelly and Moran elementary schools, or Munger Mountain Elementary School. The letter said the teachers feared the plan would “eliminat[e] the opportunity to properly staff all of our K-5 schools and add additional instructional time to the existing specialists’ already stretched-thin teaching schedules.”

“On behalf of the 1,440 K-5 students of Teton County School District No. 1, we ask that the district hire the art, computer, library and music positions needed to complete our specials team as we celebrate the opening of Munger Mountain Elementary School in the fall of 2018,” the letter reads.

The teachers added that inadequate specials staffing would make day-to-day instruction more difficult and eliminate the chance for pupils to learn beyond basic subjects.

Common concerns from the community include a decrease in the quality of instruction and the chance for the teachers to form relationships with their students.

“I want better for my kids,” wrote Amy Kuszak. “All kids deserve better. They deserve to have a teacher that will know their name and know what it is that will spark their interest. I know that if I was given 500 people to teach every week, I would not succeed and neither would the students. The residents of Teton County don’t live in an inner city setting for many reasons, one being the number of students taught by one elementary school teacher. I would expect these types of numbers in Los Angeles, NYC and Atlanta, but not Teton County. We can do better by our kids and our teachers.”

Most letter-writers seemed unhappy with the idea that the district would make do with the same number of specials staffers it now employs but spread them to an additional building.

“The areas of computer, art, PE, music and library education are so important for creating well-balanced, creative-thinking future adults,” wrote Connie Wieneke, associate director of Jackson Hole Writers. “To overload teachers and librarians is a disservice to the students and to these students’ ability to learn important life skills. If teachers and librarians are stretched to do double and triple duty without adequate resources, these young children will miss out on skills that are as essential as learning math, science, history and language arts.”

Some teachers now travel between Alta, Kelly, Moran and Wilson to teach. These decisions are usually based on school population.

Staffing plans are made by school administrators like principals, not the school board. However, such staffing plans aren’t considered final until the board approves “staffing considerations,” which it does each month.

“The plan does have a fiscal impact, so we want the board to hear the plan directly from the principals as well,” Reynolds said.

One mom, Diana Welch, wrote that she’d received a letter from Chapman saying that the “proposed schedule increases the number of specialists and does not change the amount of time students have in any area.” A frequent substitute teacher, Joanna Cooke, wrote that she’d heard that removing library paraprofessional support was under consideration, or that libraries could solely be staffed by paraprofessionals with a roving librarian overseeing several libraries in the district.

And in their joint letter, specials teachers crunched the numbers of the plan they were aware of:

“For a JES [Jackson Elementary School] specials teacher moving to a proposed five-day rotation at JES and WES [Wilson Elementary School], the number of class sections taught over a five-day period would increase by 12.5-20.8 percent (depending on the number of classroom teachers who will be at JES for 2018-19), and the daily instructional time would also increase by about 50 minutes.”

These were just a few of several pieces of conflicting information floating around that can’t be confirmed by the school district as of press time. The question of what will happen to the quality of specials classes if no new teachers are hired still exists.

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, schools@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGschools.

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