Milwaukee's 'Year Of The Arts' Loses An Arts Teacher
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Milwaukee's 'Year Of The Arts' Loses An Arts Teacher

The Milwaukee community has questions for school officials after a change to Arts Programming at Milwaukee High School of the Arts

Milwaukee's 'Year Of The Arts' Loses An Arts Teacher
Janie Fischer
"Without question, my time at MHSA was a life-shaping experience. And that statement can summarize it all, for all of us, truly. Because the academic and artistic education we received at this beautifully diverse public high school wasn't necessarily "career-shaping," but without question it was life shaping." - Nic Cable, class of 2007.

Milwaukee Public Schools has named the 2017/2018 school year the "Year Of The Arts":

"We have big plans for this year – plans to bring our students to arts and arts to our students.
In coming together to support and celebrate the Year of the Arts, we will connect our students to meaningful, engaging arts experiences in their classrooms, schools, and in communities across the cities. We are looking to our schools and school leaders to embrace this opportunity."

For one school, in particular, this declaration should be a huge step forward – which is why a growing number of parents, alumni and teachers are confused about Principal Barry Applewhite's decision not to replace a retired art teacher.

Milwaukee High School of the Arts is a unique school – at its inception in 1984, it was decided that students would be given two hours of intensive art classes per day in their chosen area or major. The goal is to foster a learning environment that is accepting, collaborative and innovative in a way that produces individuals who are accepting and tolerant. According to the school's mission statement, its "curriculum, based on respect for people of all cultural backgrounds, prepares students to be responsible citizens of a democratic society."

The decision made against hiring an art teacher has created a lot of controversy among the concerned because now Visual Arts students are only allotted one hour of art per day and given a study hall to make up the difference. As other classes are filled to the brim – a growing trend among public schools – these students don't have the opportunity to take another elective.

Ryan Krueger, MHSA class of 2011, started a thread where over 150 alumni poured out their hearts.

"The fact that so many people spoke so highly of their experiences is a powerful testimony to providing an arts-based education," Katherine Katter, former English teacher at MHSA discusses the heart-felt posts.

Two former students even started a bilingual school within MPS, using the lessons they learned from their time at MHSA. Elissa Guarnero, co-founder of ALBA and class of 1993,

"It goes to show the legacy of the arts education can be seen in the way people most expect: students becoming actors, dancers, writers, visual artists and having that type of success. But the arts education also has a legacy in the continuation of an elementary school that provides a strong academic and cultural foundation through the arts, because we ourselves know first-hand how powerful it was for us."

Alumni and former teachers are worried that this choice might prevent current and future students from having the same opportunities they had – opportunities that allowed them to find their success and happiness early on in life – ones that they directly link back to the training they were afforded due to Milwaukee High School of the Art's unique program.

Allegedly, during a School Governance Council meeting in March, Principal Applewhite was asked whether he would prioritize hiring back an Art teacher if they were over-enrolled on Third Friday, to which he stated that he would sooner hire an additional Science teacher – knowing full well the strain that will be placed on the Art department.

A former teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that the current administration has never shown much support for the Arts staff,

"It is a huge heartbreak that I felt I had to leave after only four years in the position, but I could not take any more of the constant stress and lack of leadership at the school. Administration has particularly focused on being as demeaning as possible to the arts faculty, and generally it would happen in small group or individual settings— as happens with much bullying— so that much of the rest of the faculty had no idea what was going on. Many of the arts faculty spoke up and criticized administration which lead to more focused retaliation."

Here are some questions the community have for the administration, as well as the School Board:

  1. Why was the decision made to not replace the retired Art Teacher? Will Theatre students see the same fate in their education, as that department goes through a similar shift?
  2. Why were incoming Visual Art students not informed of these changes?
  3. Has the school district abandoned its promise to offer every Milwaukee High School of the Arts student – regardless of major – two hours of daily instruction?

What is going to be done by administration to support the teachers, so that they can provide current and future students with similar opportunities that alumni credit directly to their successes?

Nic Cable says it best:

"We have the ability to give life the shape of justice and love that is so desperately needed in these days. I'm grateful for the ways MHSA has shaped my life and I commit my life to the work of passing on that love to the world."
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