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Letter to the Editor: Elimination of HS Dance Program Hurts Students

A parent shares her thoughts on cuts to the high school dance program.

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

Do you have something to say? Send your letter to the editor to kaitlyn.piccoli@patch.com.

Jessica Horvath April 30, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Isn't there a way around this? http://www.aahperd.org/naspe/publications/upload/New-York-profile.pdf The state permits school districts or schools to allow students to substitute interscholastic sports for their required physical education credits. However, each student must first demonstrate appropriate levels of knowledge, skills and physical fitness. I guess another appropriate question would be, was the dance teacher willing to get certified in phys ed? The state requires certification or licensure of physical education teachers at the middle school/junior high and high school levels. Elementary classroom teachers (generalists) may teach required elementary school physical education classes under the direction and supervision of a certified physical education teacher. A licensure exam is required for certification.
d f May 01, 2012 at 11:25 AM
My daughter was also a student of dance. She loved her dance class!!! She is now a Dance/Theatre double major at HOLLINS UNIVERSITY and found her dance class a valuable experience in making that decision. It would be a shame for the program to end. I totally agree with Mrs. Murphy that enrollment declined because of the physical education conflict. Hopefully the Board can come up with a solution. One by one we are losing the things that made this a great school district.
LITTLE INDIAN May 01, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Jess you can fix the world
Jim May 01, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I believe the dance program was under the ARTS & MUSIC department, not under Physical Ed, but students were able to meet the Physical Ed requirement.
MOMin WI May 01, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Little Indian, instead of instigating a conflict why don't you keep your comments to yourself if you have nothing constructive to offer. The questions Jessica posted are completely appropriate and as a parent I am interested reading about any possible options which would help to keep this program active for my children when they reach the high school level. Keep the negativity to yourself.
Paul Poteat May 01, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I'm probably being naive but I think Little Indian might have been genuinely giving a compliment. Dang internet is impossible to deliver proper context. We should be required to start/end each comment with a notification of intent :)
Winston Smith May 01, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Jessica bravely speaks her mind without the cover of a code name. You do not have to agree with her but don't try to poke fun at her.
Ms Will May 02, 2012 at 01:00 AM
While I understand that Dance is a form of Art, and that's why it was adopted in WIHS, we have to face the financial reality that this is a form of Art that can be learned in private dance schools, as it was before we took it on as a school subject with a teacher paid on union scale. When I went to WIHS, we did do some forms of dance as part of the phys ed curriculum--but, I guess that is not cool today.
LITTLE INDIAN May 02, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Ftw= FIX THE World
Mark May 03, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Ms.Will, my daughter is/was in the program too. My first inclination was to agree with you, especially when it comes to the comment "before we took it on as a school subject with a teacher paid on union scale". Then I thought about it again - physical education credit for her and 177 students. So it wasn't an additional teacher. It was instead of PE, period. Yes, it is a form of art, but it also is a possible professional career choice, just like Science. Exactly what is the professional choice you get from generic "gym" ? Dance or PE the child learning about the benefits of being active, but what is the profession ? The NFL - that's more likely going to come from the Lion's team sport, the NBA/WMBA - same, etc. What this boiled down to was the Union teachers pulling rank based on longevity rather then student program/class demand or teacher capability. I don't know if she is certified to teach PE, but she is certified to teach Dance by NYS and one of the very few as I understand it. She sure wasn't the highest on the payscale! She built the program and set up unique experences for the Dance students and team. I know she spends a great deal of time with the students both paid and unpaid. Don't hold your breath for a PE teacher unless he/she is getting a coaching fee. Bottom line,the PE department decided to sacrafice some other program and its teacher (and the ALL students who found it valuable training) to keep a higher union scale gym teacher.
Rich May 03, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Very well stated Mark and another good example of why this district is so divided over the BOE decisions. Nothing really seems fair. The more the BOE decisions are looked into and the more they are investigated, the less the they seem beneficial to our students or the district.
Mark May 03, 2012 at 12:43 AM
How did some students get PE credit in the past, and suddenly those in the program no longer can. If this isn't valid now, it was never valid?? So we spend probably hundreds of thousands (if not a million dollars) on a renovation for a Dance studio, and now its going to be used for what ? More money down the drain. Who on the board is responsible for the decision to put forward a bond to spend money to build the studio ? When will the board release the its assessment of the complete failure of a prior boards due diligence ? We have a right to know how/why our money was wasted, what caused it, and what they have done to ensure it doesn't happen again. If it was as easy as getting the teacher a second certification I have to believe the board could have appealed to NYS to grant a waiver to allow the teacher a calendar year to accomplish a second certification. Or ? is the board colluding with the PE dept & union to let this fade away and hope the community doesn’t notice because - heck - its only “dance”. Where is the BOE accountability ? If we don’t show up at a board meeting (that we can’t speak at anyway) does that mean the issue doesn’t exist ? P.S. Are those who got credit in earlier graduating classes holding invalid diplomas? It WASN'T about the district's FINANCES and it WASN'T about the CHILDREN ! Shame on the union, shame on the ignoble PE department, and shame on the BOE. The children of WI deserve better - the Parents of WI expect better.
Gerry May 03, 2012 at 01:03 AM
It was mentioned at a board meeting that the teacher will be certified by Sept. but the district is laying off two PE teachers. This instructor would be the lowest in seniority and the first to go.
Mark May 03, 2012 at 09:59 AM
So lowest in seniority trumps a full program that has demand and is significantly different than generic PE. A teacher who has the skills, success of demand from students, and a program no PE teacher could teach - Funny how downsizing works in the schools vs the real world. While seniority with real expertise is to be respected in most cases, the needs of the children should be superior to the need of a individual teacher in a program (PE) that is over staffed. A PE teacher and a Dance teacher who developed a complete top rate program are not interchangeable. It WASN'T about the district's FINANCES and it WASN'T about the CHILDREN !
Laura Christine May 03, 2012 at 03:30 PM
seriouly!!! this is what we need to cut from the budget? this program was my daughters whole high school life. A.G spent many unpaid hours with girls taking them to perform in NYC . She stepped in when the kickline coach left, and been a personal asset to all the girls. Private dance studios are closing due to lack of enrollment people cannot afford to pay for classes. since our school taxes keep going up.. you keep telling our kids that they need more physical activity and now the dance company that meets after school will be gone also. . i feel this is a great loss for our school system. How would you feel if your child was effected by this cut? This years dance concert is only a couple of weeks away and will be a very emotional one for students, parents and AG.... how could this happen?
Jim May 03, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Even IF a teacher certified in dance achieved a sceond certification in PE, they would then still be on the bottom of the list in the PE track, and still thus subject to being the first one to be laid off.

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