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Of the three middle schools in District 65, only Haven offers industrial arts, and, even though Lee Kuhlman just retired after more than 30 years as the industrial arts teacher there, the District 65 Board voted on June 13 to continue shop classes for at least another year.
At the Board’s June 6 Finance Committee meeting, Haven Principal Kathy Roberson and Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Price offered what they termed a “creative hybrid” plan to offer some shop classes at Haven and bolster math supports at all three middle schools. Under that plan, the District would not hire a full-time replacement for Mr. Kuhlman but would use the money that would have gone for the salary of the replacement for math support at Haven, Chute, and Nichols middle schools and for after-school and Saturday industrial arts programs at Haven.
Mr. Price said the positive results shown by Haven math teacher Tiffany Chapman and the good work of Mr. Kuhlman, coupled with budget realities, brought them to this hybrid. “We can’t do everything we want to do and so we must set priorities,” he said.
Finance Committee members questioned different aspects of the proposal, in part because not hiring a replacement for Mr. Kuhlman might mean the end of the industrial arts program at Haven, and in part because money that might otherwise be spent at Haven would be shared with the other two middle schools.
Board member Tracy Quattrocki said she was “not comfortable with the math trade-off … to take away the one class that seems to be reaching a lot of kids,” particularly since engagement is a tough issue particularly in middle school. “And you put [the new program] after school. Those whom you want to engage are not necessarily the ones who will be staying after school.”
“I don’t disagree with you on industrial arts,” said Mr. Price, but he reiterated his preference for using the money for math supports for struggling students. Ms. Roberson said there are now more hands-on projects offered by other departments at the school.
At the June 13 full Board meeting, the pro-shop sentiment prevailed, with the Board approving 5-2 a proposal to post a one-year position for teaching industrial arts at Haven Middle School. The Board also approved hiring teachers for math supports – .3 full-time positions at Haven, Chute, and Nichols middle schools.
In the upcoming school year, the Board and administration plan to conduct a full review of the arts programs District-wide, and industrial arts will be considered in that review, said Superintendent Paul Goren. “When we get to the arts review, industrial arts will be parts of that process: ‘Where does industrial arts fit within the broader picture of the arts – not only at Haven but at other schools?’” he said.
During public comment at the June 13 Board meeting, two recent Haven graduates said how much they learned in the shop classes – figuring out how to build things on their own and how to use machines.
Board Vice President Richard Rykhus said, “My view is that we need to protect the industrial arts program for one more year, and my proposal is to fund the position for one year.” He suggested using some of the $321,000 surplus funds from the current school year to fund the position next year.
In a year, said Mr. Rykhus, things could become clearer. “We’ll know what our local funding situation will be at that point. If this Board goes for a referendum and it passes or fails, you would have very clearly next spring an understanding of what funds might be available at that point.” He also said the District-wide arts review would consider industrial arts. “I think in tough financial times it’s tough to cut a program and then bring it back.” Referring to the students’ comments, Mr. Rykhus said industrial arts offers social-emotional learning and teaches executive functions. The classes also engage students for whom academics is not the hook, he said.
Ms. Quattrocki said Nichols School lost its industrial arts program when the shop teacher retired there. Since shop classes keep kids engaged, “it seems like the prudent thing to do – maintain it for one year until we address it.” She also noted that Evanston Township High School’s Geometry in Construction and metal sculpture classes are very popular.
“I’m just very afraid that once something slips out of the core and becomes an after-school program it will be gone,” said Board member Claudia Garrison. “Having been a teacher at Haven, I saw how wood shop shapes the kids’ whole day, because they had that positive attitude. Every kid had that sense of pride.”
Board member Suni Kartha said she was “conflicted” about the proposal and glad that the Board decided to discuss the math supports proposal separate from the industrial arts proposal. Since the industrial arts program falls into the upcoming arts review, she said, “I guess we have a plan to have a plan.”
Board President Candance Chow said she was also conflicted because she saw the value of industrial arts but did not think there would be sufficient money to fund both math supports and industrial arts and did not think it wise to spend reserves.
“My concern about spending anything we have out of reserves is the huge uncertainly about state funding. We have no allocation; we have no budget.” She said the State gives the District about $12 million – “and we’re projecting that we’ll get 92% of what we would get – which would mean anything from a $350,000 to $700,000 shortfall.
“So I just want us all to be clear that any money in that reserve could need to be used to pay for what we’ve already committed to for the year … I agree that we need to have a plan, but I’m very concerned about funding.”
Board member Jennifer Phillips joined Ms. Chow in voting against a proposal to continue industrial arts at Haven for the 2017-18 school year. The motion to preserve the program for a year passed 5-2.
The proposal to fund math supports at the three middle schools passed unanimously.