Dr. Meria Castarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, thinks everyone is completely misunderstanding the situation.
APS has just announced the slashing of eighteen band and orchestra teachers from the elementary school system, and possibly the funding for those programs as well (the reportage on the latter is a little fuzzy).
That news spread pretty quickly, and Dr. Castarphen took to her personal blog to offer an explanation. Kind of.
Yes, eighteen positions were cut. That was just part of a district "right-sizing" (lordy, but I just live for the day that some boss announces "right-sizing" as an explanation for hiring more people). This right-sizing included cutting 368 positions, including a chunk from the central office. But cutting music?! No!! Well, maybe. Sort of. Yes.
In our cluster planning and our move to a new operating system, APS
has given clusters and schools more freedom and flexibility to choose
how they staff their schools in order to meet the specific needs of
their students. This includes the decision about which arts and music
instruction to offer students.
For example, if principal A observed high interest in band over
orchestra in their elementary school, that principal could choose to
enhance the band program and remove the orchestra program. If principal B
saw a growing interest in visual arts, principal B could decide to
invest more in visual arts, eliminating band and orchestra. If principal
C was interested in enhancing band and orchestra programs, principal C
could choose to increase school class sizes in order to offer a more
robust fine arts program.
See, even if the school doesn't have a band program. It could be taught by, I don't know, pixies, or regular classroom teachers on their lunch hours, or traveling street musicians who were coaxed into the building. Because students can be taught to play instruments, particularly as beginners, by pretty much anybody.
Maybe students will get really interested in a band, which I suppose could happen despite the fact that they have no band or band teacher in the building to pique that interest-- maybe they'll read about bands in books or see some compelling band music on tv or those same instrument-teaching pixies will visit them in their sleep.
Also, please note that middle school and high school band and orchestra are not being cut. Nosirree. They will still be there, thriving despite the fact that students will arrive from the elementary school without any knowledge of playing in a music ensemble or playing an instrument. Because middle and high school programs don't depend on feeder programs in the elementary at all.
She tried to clarify her position in other interviews
"That doesn't mean you eliminate programming because you eliminated a
positon. You can still do the programming with one person instead of two
people," said Carstarphen. "We allow those teachers and those
principals to still offer band and orchestra as part of their design if
they are able to do it with what they have as a student population,
available resources and the interest of the school."
See? They can have a music program. Just not with enough qualified teachers or resources. We aren't taking the puppy to the pound-- we just aren't going to feed it ever, and you can still keep it once it's a dog.
Oh, yeah. And she's in charge of converting Atlanta to an all-charter system. You can read their whole presentation and application for charter status here.
Reading her plaintive pleas for understanding, I could only think of one question--
Is this woman really that clueless?
It doesn't seem possible; in her blog post, she identifies herself as an oboe player. An oboe. The kind of advanced (and expensive) instrument that students generally move onto only in high school after they have mastered a more standard instrument in elementary and middle school.
I mean, there are only two possibilities here. Either she doesn't understand the implications of these cuts, or she understands and she's trying to lie and bluff her way past this.
There are limited clues. Castarphen was hired just a year ago, to replace the superintendent who replaced the superintendent who presided over the Atlanta cheating scandal. When Castarphen was hired, "embattled" turned up often as a descriptor of APS. Previously Castarphen led the Austin school system for five years, a system twice as big as Atlanta's. According to some sources, Atlanta pursued her; but her Austin contract had not been renewed and would be running out now. In 2012, district leaders "admonished" her to build better relationships with staff, parents and community. In fact, she was the only candidate the board brought forward after a process some called "opaque."
In Austin, Castarphen came under fire for a "closed leadership style" and "there are those who believe Carstarphen's hard-charging methods are aimed at bullying people to get her way." That stood in contrast to her defense of No Child Left Behind as a program providing necessary transparency. "And that's at the heart of what the spirit of the law is about: Transparency. Are we doing the job or not?
Before Austin, Castarphen was head of St. Paul Public Schools, where critics accused her of a combative style (the word "bullying" turns up again) and over half the administrators there in 2006 when she arrived left before her departure three years later.
Castarphen's teaching routes go back to teaching middle school Spanish. Studied at Tulane, Harvard. Affiliated with ETS, Council of Great City Schools.
I don't see it. Maybe it's just not her style to say, "We are strapped for cash, and as much as I hate to cut any program off at the knees, I've decided that instrumental music is going to take a gut shot so we can try to save the district." That might have been more honest, but I suppose it would have invited debate, and Castarphen doesn't seem to be a fan. Of course, she now finds herself embroiled in a debate about whether or not musical yetis riding on unicorns will keep Atlanta's music program alive and well. She probably should just stick to a debate about reality.
Upon arriving in Atlanta, she told staff, "You're going to work harder than you ever have before. But we'll try to make it fun, we'll try to make it exciting
and we'll try to make it rewarding."