I don't know if you are like me, but it gets hard after a while to feel anything beyond impotent when it comes to the political decisions being made about budgets.
I am sure you have all heard of the upcoming protest at City Hall being staged against the teacher layoffs that Bloomberg is planning in response to Albany's schools budget cuts. Layoffs that are above and beyond any natural attrition.
Some of you may think: "Well, that is why I have moved to the suburbs," or, "that is why I put my kid in private school. I don't need to care about this, this issue doesn't affect me."
If you have kids, or are contemplating having them, and don't have a small fortune to expend on private school, and would like to stay in New York City and take advantage of what is currently a pretty amazing school system, this issue is vastly important. It will affect you, as some of your kids' favorite teachers -- the ones who inspire them and turn them onto school -- get cut. With all the talk about needing to raise standards so that we are competitive on the world market, we are totally losing sight of the reality that occurs every day, in every school in this city. There are kids who stay in school because of that one teacher who turns them onto learning. Or they play guitar, or love film, or have some sport, or other artistic ability, that inspires them to work harder and apply to college.
This past weekend I attended a high school production at the Beacon School of Tommy. Beacon is one of those gems in our public school system. (Luckily for us, it is not the only terrific high school. This is a nail-biting period for a lot of parents and kids waiting to hear which high school they got into.)
Beacon High School's "B-DAT" (Beacon Drama Art Theatre) program staged the production. What blew my mind was not only the talent of the 50-odd kids in the production, the brilliance of the band, or the performers, but the fact that here was a New York City public high school with a black box theatre that can magically transform itself for a production. Embedded in the four-year curriculum is a theatre training program taught by Jo Ann Cimato, who also stages and directs about four productions a year.
"Seven years ago our black box theatre was a white multipurpose room. Collaborating with theatre professionals, many of whom are Beacon parents of B'DAT alum, enables us to make the professional work we create. B'DAT is open to ALL students regardless of 'talent' or 'experience.' Our Glee exists through a continued partnership with Teaching Artist Lilli Wosk, who we are able to pay a fraction of what she's worth through the generosity of the PA and from the proceeds we collect selling tickets to our shows. Our students from an award-winning Thespian Troupe of the International Thespian Society have racked up an impressive six years of performance awards in acting technical theater and musical theater," she says.
So why should you as a New York Citizen care about this high school that puts on shows? Why should we care at all that arts in the schools thrive, or that teachers like Ms. Cimato don't get cut in the next wave of budget cuts coming from the mayor?
If you care at all about New York City continuing to be a place where people can remain and raise their kids, so the city doesn't just become a shopping mall for foreigners, you might care. If you care that New York City continues to be a city where families in all the boroughs can remain and send their kids to great schools, you might care. If you care at all about kids having access to great schools, even if they aren't in the top 5th percentile of testing, and if you see that they can still achieve success because they get inspired in school and continue on to college, then you need to care. If you want to have more great public schools so that there truly are options when your kid goes to kindergarten, middle school, and high school, and you want a solid Parent Association to help buffer the usual budget cuts that will always come around, then you need to care. If you care at all that kids who don't get perfect test scores to land them in some of the top specialized high schools, but who are passionate, or whose motivation to stay and work hard in school gets sparked by their interest in the acting, singing, film, or sports that exist in some of these great public schools, then you need to care.
"There are 50 kids in this," says Harry Streep, the vice principal of Beacon High School. "That's 50 kids who are participating; this is what learning is about. This is what is being taken away from this experience for these kids; this is the learning."
Yes, Mr. Bloomberg, we need to keep standards and raise the level for as many kids as possible. This is not going to be achieved by cutting teachers. Beloved teachers who are the heart and soul of the great schools. They are the ones who keep families from fleeing New York City, knowing that the public school system here is not only great because of test scores, but because the citizens of this city who participate in the lifeblood of what makes New York great decide that they can raise kids here and send them to public school. Do we really want to not only lose that tax base, but lose this population? Do you really need to address your budget issues this way?