Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Certification mandate jolts arts magnet schools

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff

Actors and dancers teaching at regional arts magnet schools, including New Haven’s Educational Center for the Arts, must soon add certified teacher to their resumes, under a new state requirement some school officials say places part-time education programs in peril.
“Once staff get certified, we are going to lose them. Why would they work at a part-time program when they could work at a full-time school and have all their benefits? That’s going to be very problematic for the part-time schools in Connecticut. I think eventually we’re not going to be in existence,” said Diane Wheeler, principal of the Regional Center for the Arts in Trumbull.
All dance and theater teachers in public schools statewide must receive certification by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, under new state requirements. To remain in a classroom next year, all non-certified teachers must be working toward certification. Department heads must be certified by the start of the coming school year.
The state has established a new fast track, two-year certification program for dancers and actors at Western Connecticut State University and Central and Naugatuck Valley community colleges to address the new requirements.
ECA’s visual arts department head, who was not identified by officials, submitted her resignation two months ago rather than begin that process, according to ECA Principal Alice Schilling.
“She is an extremely qualified professional with an MFA (master’s of fine arts),” said Robert Parker, spokesman for Area Cooperative Educational Services, the regional center that oversees ECA on Audubon Street in New Haven.
“I have no idea which of our current staff would choose to go back to school to achieve certification,” he said.
Parker said Regional Education Service Center’s leadership remains concerned about certification requirements and has yet to issue any directive regarding the changes.
State and school officials differ over the value of the newly required coursework.
“We are interested in bringing talented people into the classrooms to work with students; however, people should understand that just because you have content knowledge does not necessarily mean you are prepared to teach. The art and science of teaching is something that can be supported by coursework and higher education,” said state Department of Education spokesman Thomas Murphy.
“We are doing our best to work with the schools and the individuals, but at the same time, the law is quite clear: Public school teachers must be certified,” he said.
But Wheeler claims her teachers are naturals in the classroom.
“Going to teachers college does not necessarily mean you can teach,” Wheeler said. “Certainly, any beginning teacher needs support in terms of classroom management and time on task.”
“Arts people are by nature very nurturing, caring, giving people. A lot of what is a learned behavior for someone going through a teachers program comes very naturally for them,” she said.
David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, felt the additional bureaucracy was “well-intentioned,” and said he valued the assurance of certification.
But, “sometimes, those good intensions get in the way of execution,” he said.
“If you bring someone from the outside, they may be good at what they do, but are they good at working with our kids?” he said. “It’s usually a good idea to have them certified, because that way there is some control over what they do.”
The teachers union does not represent ECA staff.
ECA attracts 264 high school students from districts throughout the region, including Ansonia, Cheshire, Clinton, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Milford, New Haven, Newtown, North Branford, North Haven, Old Saybrook, Regional District 3, Regional District 5, Regional District 6, Regional District 9, Regional District 15, Seymour, Shelton, Wallingford and West Haven.
The part-time school is supported by state magnet school funding and by tuition from the participating districts. In some cases, where districts do not pay, tuition is paid by families. Admission is competitive and based on an audition process and lottery.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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