Editor's note: This letter was contributed by A. Martin Murphy, a West Islip resident.
The elimination of the dance program at West Islip High School was not caused by a reduction of student enrollment and or student interest as shown on the enrollment analysis school budget presentation and covered in the Patch on April 19th. West Islip Schools will be losing an exceptional program that has been offered to our students for the last 7 years. I am a parent of two daughters involved in the dance program. My youngest daughter is currently enrolled in the dance program at WIHS and my oldest daughter graduated from WIHS in 2008 and earned Physical Education credit while enrolled in the dance program. Mrs. A-Stratton the NYS certified dance teacher has built a wonderful program over the last 7-8 years utilizing the beautiful dance studio built with bond monies. Two dance teams have also been established. My 11th grader received Phys Ed credit for the dance classes she was enrolled in during her last two school years (2009-2011). Being a part of the Dance classes and the Dance Team has been an important part of her High School career. My daughter is also a member of the HS Chorale selective chorus group and a member of the HS kick line team. She plans to apply to competitive colleges that offer BFA degrees in drama and musical theatre. The High School dance program would have been an important HS class and activity to have on her college resume.
My husband and I spoke to Annemarie LaRosa, the current Vice president of the WI school board, last year, and informed her of the possible loss of the important dance program that then had 155 students enrolled. She listened to our concerns and went as far as attending the spring dance concert. The decision was made to retain the dance teacher for another school year.
The decline of enrollment was inevitable. I believe that the true reason why the program went from 155 students enrolled in 2010-2011 school year to 77 students enrolled in the 2011-2012 school year was due to the elimination of the required Physical education credit that students acquired while taking the dance class. The decline in enrollment was not due to lack of interest from the part of the students. It is extremely difficult to schedule a required Phys Ed class and an extra elective credit in to a students' schedule while maintaining required and challenging classes such as AP and or IB in student schedules. There just are not enough periods or availability of classes during the course of a students’ day. It is my belief that students were forced to take the Physical Education class and were not able to fit in a dance elective in to their schedules.
Why did the district build a beautiful dance studio over 8 years ago to establish a dance program where students who had dance experience were permitted to take and earn the required Physical Ed. credit only to take it away from students who had already been committed to it for their freshman and sophomore years? As a parent, I was never informed via a letter or an email that the program was in danger of being eliminated. Students began to hear about the possible elimination last year and the change in Physical Education credit status last spring when students met with guidance for scheduling for the 2011-2012 school year. If the program needed to be cut because of budgetary constraints a notification to parents should have taken place. Perhaps offer the sophomores that had already been committed to the program, two more years to complete the four year sequence in the dance program that had been available to other students for last 7 years. Perhaps a gradual phasing out of the program would have been better for all of the students involved.
I believe that the Phys Ed department did not want to lose any of their own staff due to cut backs and forced a change and an elimination of this program. Wasn’t the dance program part of the Physical Education Department?
I am a Middle School teacher in Sayville and I understand completely the difficult financial times we are going through. I give thanks everyday for the wonderful job I have had for over 20 years. I support the decisions that WI school board must make in order to continue to educate our students. Unfortunately numbers do not always tell the real story.
The reduction this year and the elimination next year of the dance program has taken it's toll on my daughter and on others who feel that their dance program is not as important as other programs are in WIHS. My daughter was in the process of entering the National Dance Honor Society and she was also nominated to apply for the 2012 National Dance Education organization, Artistic Merit, Leadership, and Academic Achievement Award. The dance program is as important to my daughter and other students enrolled in the program as other existing programs in athletics, music or art are to others who are preparing for the difficult process of entering into college.
I thank you for all the information that the community receives from the Patch. I appreciate that you offer the community a vehicle such as this where I have been able to voice my frustration.
A. Martin Murphy
Proud to be a member of the West Islip Community
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