Connecticut’s Department of Education is requiring that all public school teachers become certified. That includes art professionals who teach at state magnet schools. WNPR’s Marie Kuhn reports these dancers, musicians and artists warn that these requirements could threaten the future of the schools.
New Haven’s Educational Center for the Arts, or ECA is a part-time regional arts magnet school. Kids take their academics in the morning at their regular schools, then go to ECA in the afternoon to study dance, theater, music, visual arts and creative writing.
Parent Leslie Redmond, a certified teacher herself, says teachers at ECA offer students more than knowledge and training. They offer understanding of the artistic temperament.
"A lot of these kids I think, probably feel like they don't quite fit in in their regular high school, and this is their salvation, ok, I'll take my chemistry, I'll take my math class, I'll take my biology, but then, I get to go perform, or dance, or sing or do what I'm so passionate about."
Getting into the program is competitive. Once accepted, students work with professionals in their fields -- jazz musicians, comedy writers, poets, painters, choreographers, theater directors, and orchestra conductors.
Roy Wiseman has been teaching at ECA for almost 20 years. He plays double bass and leads professional ensembles. He’s also the orchestra conductor at Wesleyan University.
"I probably wouldn't be here if I were required to be certified. I mean, I'm already teaching at the college level, and I probably wouldn't pursue that. It's not really relevant to what I do."
And going through the certification process can be expensive, costing up to $9,000. ECA’s part time teachers are paid hourly wages with no benefits, even though most hold masters of fine arts degrees, and even doctorates.
Alice Schilling is the director at ECA. She worries that non-certified faculty will opt to leave rather than go through the process. And she says getting certified teachers to work part-time will be challenging.
"If you're certified in the state to teach pre-K to 12 in say... visual arts, you're not going to teach at ECA one day a week. You're going to look for a full-time position in another school system."
ECA is not alone. Other arts magnet programs -- in Trumbull, New London and Hartford -- face the same dilemma.
These regional magnet schools have been viewed as an important piece of the state’s response to the Sheff vs. O’Neill desegregation ruling. They’ve done a good job addressing the racial isolation of urban school districts by successfully attracting suburban kids into cities. ECA alone attracts students from 23 different districts.
Education officials say ECA’s program will only be strengthened by the state and federal teacher certification requirements. And they say… rules are rules. Schools that receive state and federal dollars will have to comply with the requirements.
Spokesman Tom Murphy:
"The state of Connecticut, and federal law under No Child Left Behind require that all public school teachers hold a state license, a license to teach, which involves not only content knowledge, knowing math, science, ect -- but also having a preparation in pedagogy -- an ability to instruct."
Murphy says being a professional artist doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher, and he says Connecticut offers special programs to help artists become certified.
"What it does provide is a life-time certification as a public school teacher, and access to appropriate pay, benefits, and retirement. Today, these part time teachers don't have access to those things."
But many on the ECA faculty say they would not teach full-time because they work full-time in their artistic fields.
Music teacher Roy Wiseman says ECA's strength is that students get direct access to professional artists.
"The way ECA is set up is it's really in effect a college level program, and you know, kids have to come up to that standard. I think they learn some things from working with me that they might not with somebody else with a different experience."
Part-time arts magnet schools in Hartford and New London are transitioning into full-time programs. But it wouldn't be cost-effective for ECA to become full-time. Regional arts magnet schools are hoping the state will offer a more flexible position on certification requirements.
Currently, teachers have until 2014 to complete the certification process.
WNPR's Where We Live: What do We Mean by "Qualified" Teachers?