Cuts to SLCS art program

To: Diane Fox, superintendent, school board members, and school district residents,

The Saranac Lake Central School District has been fortunate to have had talented high school art teachers like Doc Ward and the current teachers, Jennifer Moore and Valerie Patterson. The artistic accomplishments of your students are notably excellent, as seen in the annual school art show in the town hall each year. You have graduates who have gone on to successful careers in the arts. To hear that you are planning to not replace Valerie after she retires in June is a huge disappointment.

It would severely impact those high school students who seek careers in the arts, but I would like to address the needs of the rest of the student body here. The arts (visual and performing arts) are part of a well-rounded education. Other subjects, like math and science, are important. They provide knowledge and skills that are needed to function in the world. But so do the arts. There’s knowledge in the rich history of art and music; in fact, much of human history is known because it was documented by artists — all the way back to the prehistoric cave paintings. Skills learned in the arts like hand-eye coordination, drawing, and design are often applied by people in ways they don’t even realize they are doing it (picking out draperies to match room decor, or arranging framed photos on a wall). But the most important benefit of education in the arts is in critical and creative thinking skills. In a math class there is only one correct answer to an equation. In an art class, there are as many solutions to a problem as there are students. There are opportunities for the expression of personal values. The arts encourage individual exploration and skills development, thinking outside the box, figuring out unique ways to do things. Searching for original approaches to an assignment, rather than expecting all students to come up with the same answer, is so important for everyone heading out to work in the modern world. Art classes have also been known to become the place where students who have academic difficulties find a way to achieve individual success. Please don’t deprive your students of these opportunities.

New York state saw fit to require one unit in the arts as a graduation requirement. That means a full-year class that meets every day. There are also supposed to be opportunities for students to take a sequence in the arts. If you eliminate Valerie’s position, you cut by half the number of students who will be able to do this.

I am a voting taxpayer in the district, though I do not have any children in school. I’m a veteran of 31 years as a grade 7-12 art teacher in a small, rural, northern New York school district. About half that time I was also an adjunct instructor of art education and worked with art student teachers for St. Lawrence University. In fact I supervised student teachers in Saranac Lake for several years. I chose to move to Saranac Lake after I retired because of the vibrant and active arts community. The school plays a part in that, and the accomplishments of your art program have always been recognized and respected. I am also an active artist and exhibit at the Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery on Main Street.

I fully understand it is no easy job to develop a school budget but request that you use all your wisdom and experience to find a way to keep the high school art program intact and to save these wonderful, creative opportunities to learn for all of your students to take advantage of.

Sandra Hildreth lives in Saranac Lake.