News

Teachers push back against reorganization of arts department

District to create single visual and performing arts coordinator

For the second time in as many years, Palo Alto Unified art teachers, students and parents are protesting the consolidation of a district-level art position, a decision they said was made without consulting those who would be impacted by it.

Superintendent Don Austin announced in a weekly message earlier this month that the district's secondary-level art coordinator and music coordinator roles are being merged into one visual and performing arts coordinator.

"Throughout the school year, we have been reviewing our district's organizational structure, including the arts, to identify areas in which we can make student experiences more consistent and coherent," he wrote. "By reallocating funds from administration into classroom art instruction, we are able to establish consistency of art instruction for elementary students."

The change will save the district about $100,000, according to Austin. The current music coordinator, Nancy Coffey, will become the visual and performing arts coordinator.

In 2017, Austin's predecessor, Max McGee, faced backlash after proposing during budget reductions that the district cut a visual arts coordinator position, which oversaw the elementary schools' SPECTRA art program and staff, and give that person's responsibilities to a coordinator in charge of both music and physical education. The proposal, opposed by the board at the time, was prompted by the retirement of the former longtime art coordinator, Sharon Ferguson. The district hired Li Ezzel to replace her.

Mark Gleason, a longtime Gunn High School arts teacher, told the school board Tuesday night that Austin's decision has placed the arts department in a "state of alarming distrust" and "fear for our subject area."

"This episode makes our leaders seem as if they are oblivious to the people they are trying to serve," he said, adding that neither he nor his colleagues had previously met or spoken with Austin. "Some foresight in communication about proposed changes to structure ... would have gone a long way."

Gleason told the Weekly that he and other visual arts teachers first learned about the reorganization in an email from Ezzel on April 10. Ezzel informed them that "there will be a re-structuring, and that he will not be included," Gleason said.

Soon after, Ezzel was placed on administrative leave and teachers were told by their instructional supervisor not to contact him, Gleason said. Austin confirmed this and said that Ezzel has since resigned but declined to comment further. On his resignation letter, signed Feb. 26 and effective June 30, Ezzel marked "personal" as his reason for resigning.

The news generated such "unrest," Gleason said, that teachers considered boycotting the district's annual K-12 youth art show at the Palo Alto Arts Center but they ultimately decided against it.

Speakers emphasized at the board meeting, like they did two years ago, the need for specialized leadership in the visual arts, a program that provides everything from glass blowing at the high schools to ceramics at the middle schools. Gunn junior Jocelyn Wang, a graphic illustrator and artist, described the art coordinator as the "backbone" of the program and the "bridge between our peers, parents and mentors."

Paul Gralen, who teaches art, ceramics and sculpture at Greene Middle School, said the fact that the school has four kilns is a "mark of a program that places high value on visual arts leadership.

"None of this would have been possible without the sustained and disciplined commitment of a specific leader in the visual arts, he said.

In an interview Wednesday, Austin said Chief Academic Officer of Elementary Education Anne Brown and Nancy Coffey brought the consolidation proposal to him. They have since met with groups of teachers to discuss the change, he said.

"Arts have been, currently are and will continue to be a supported, necessary, vital part of our district," Austin said. "I wouldn't read anything into this other than we found a different way to provide administrative services."

Under the reorganization of the arts department, a new part-time elementary-level lead arts teacher will provide "increased support" to other instructors and develop K-5 art curricula, Austin wrote in his message. A part-time theater integration specialist will help teachers to incorporate theater art skills into core curricula.

At the middle and high schools, a secondary steering committee will continue to provide support to the art departments.

"This model is consistent with the way we handle all secondary disciplines, none of which have a subject-specific coordinator at the district level," Austin wrote.

Coffey told the Weekly that there's a "misconception" about the change, which she described as consolidating all of the arts-related administrative responsibilities under one person, freeing up staff at the school level to focus on instruction and professional development.

"That's exciting in that we're removing a district office position and putting it into the classroom to work directly with teachers," she said. "I think that hasn't been said enough."

Because the art coordinator issue was not on the board's agenda on Tuesday, board members could not respond to speakers.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Are any of these vocal activist teachers losing their jobs?
*Meanwhile, in an art classroom in San Jose Unified...
Entitlement abounds on all levels
Be grateful
Signed, a fellow teacher


28 people like this
Posted by schaefer
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2019 at 12:34 pm


In the Paly Voice article 8/2018 Dr Austin said he was all about effective lines of communication and asking the teachers what they want...what happened?


66 people like this
Posted by Ms. Messinger
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2019 at 12:41 pm

I've been an art instructor at Gunn High for over 20 years and I'd like to make it clear that PAUSD Art teachers don't have a "misconception" about what's being executed here. It's an administrative decision that lacks understanding of the value and role of the Arts Coordinator. Thus we felt a need to speak out last night.

The spin of words do not address the fact that retaining the Visual Arts Coordinator leadership, actually helps this goal of helping art teachers "to focus on instruction and professional development" in the classroom. Diluting it with the part time positions is not productive and will actually weaken our ability to have advocacy to continue to build our programs.

They're asking us to follow and work in a new system that is lead by someone who has no Art Education Credential and speaks a different language through music. To treat these two disciplines as the same, just points out the lack of understanding of the value the Visual Arts, and what our art programs need.

It's simple: this is NOT a healthy step for the Visual Arts programs for our district, and the art teachers are against the removal of the 30+ year Art Coordinator's position, especially through this method that lacked transparency and collaborative spirit.

I'm hoping our community is willing to step up to support the Visual Art teachers and hear our plea about this unadvised change for the K-12 art programs. We respectfully recommend the Art Coordinator position be retained, for another 30 years.


25 people like this
Posted by Sorry Not Sorry
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2019 at 12:50 pm

In response to Wow, the person that lost their job has been told not to communicate with anyone. How exactly they were persuaded to be quiet and to not attend the board meeting we cannot know for sure. There are administrative leaders for all the other subjects, is it really entitlement that art would expect to have a dedicated leader. Especially if you consider that the Spectra program is populated by amazing and dedicated teaching artist, that are not provided paid prep time to collaborate or create resources and content for their class. Is it entitled to have a position to support them in curriculum development, acquiring materials, and much more!


30 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Tempest in a teapot. They are merging two admin jobs and adding an "Arts Lead Teacher" to provide more support to the teachers. Really, in a district where 75% of low income hispanic students are below grade level, THIS is what teachers want to get upset about?


4 people like this
Posted by Don't Know Much About...(any subject)
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2019 at 2:07 pm

[Post removed.]


44 people like this
Posted by Mr. Gralen
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2019 at 4:57 pm

I have been an art teacher at Greene (Jordan) for 14 years. As Ms. Messinger stated, it needs to be made clear that there is no “misconception” about what is going on here. This is a solution in search of a problem. We fund what we value. We’ve had this discipline-specific professional leadership position in Visual Arts in our district for decades because we valued it. It appears that this has changed, but that decision was made unilaterally, with no consultation among community stakeholders. The high values we have placed on Visual Arts are reflected in, to give just one example, our national reputation as one of the few districts in the country to offer high school programs in glass-blowing and bronze casting. Having a discipline-specific leader is a key part, a key expression, of that value. Axing that position sends an entirely wrong-headed message to the community. Consolidating it with another is equally wrong-headed. (Imagine the reaction of math teachers if they had a chemist put in charge of their program. That should work though - those subjects involve numbers, right?)

Further, the canard that we are saving a bunch of money here is specious at best. The district is hiring two part-time teachers instead, at further cost, and is also hiring more managers and technicians at the district level in other areas, so any claim to fiscal propriety is betrayed by additional spending that is happening pretty freely. The salary for this position represents a staggering ≈.06% of the total district budget. Surely if the objective here is to save money we can find other less vital things to cut. Streamlining an organizational chart is not a valid reason to axe an important leadership position in a highly valued discipline in our district.

We went through all of this two years ago when the previous Art Coordinator retired and there was an attempt to eliminate the position at that time. It’s disappointing that we are having to engage in exactly the same debate again in such short order. The community vigorously opposed the action at that time and not much about that has changed. We can and should do better as a district. Perhaps most troubling about all of this was the way it was carried out. This unilateral, pre-emptive action was taken with no consultation and resulted in the alienation of a significant number of teachers, in no small part because of how poorly our colleague was treated, and how our collective concerns were essentially ignored. That will take some work to repair.


40 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 24, 2019 at 5:41 pm

As a district parent with a STEM background, I've been appalled to see how the district and parents undervalue the arts here in Palo Alto. Having lived in other major cities around the world (NYC and Beijing), I have seen a much more balanced curriculum in the schools my children have attended. This type of administrative move, especially when carried out without consultation with the impacted programs, is a SIGNAL of what the district values. I'm appaled by it and think the PAUSD administration and community needs to really understand STEAM and the importance the arts (especially, the visual arts) can have for our kids in terms of creativity and innovation. Please stop the pure focus so much on STEM. Please value the visual arts.


24 people like this
Posted by To @ James
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 24, 2019 at 6:09 pm

IN my experience, as a former parent in the district, this is what Tiger Parents value here. Pushing AP Math BC when the kid isn’t even interested in the subject - complete with preparatory tutoring- for university apps and status. Good luck with creativity, individuality, following one’s own interests and inclibations, much less dong one’s own work.


26 people like this
Posted by Art Teacher (not in PAUSD)
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2019 at 6:30 pm

Art Teacher (not in PAUSD) is a registered user.

There's a huge difference between visual arts and music. While both can be a form of expression, music is a performing art while the visual arts are often more introverted. They both require different skills and expertise. Mashing them up under a leader with a music specialty shows that the district neigther understands nor values the visual arts.


23 people like this
Posted by PA Artist
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 24, 2019 at 6:44 pm

There is no indication or analysis in this article of how Visual and Performing Arts funding and management compares to other programs - STEM, Robotics, Journalism, team sports etc . . . - supported by the district. To me this reduction in funding and support is yet another example of the lack of interest in Palo Alto for anything that isn't technology based. And it's a very narrow-minded, short-sighted point of view. Personally I think the district should reduce the amount of time the students spend doing work and projects "online"

As an artist, I can attest that creating visual art or learning an instrument or singing uses very different parts of the brain than math and science, or even history, literature, etc. But the mental exercise of doing art or music supplements the "rote" learning, and encourages creative thinking, which is useful in any discipline. .Not every child wants to spend their time learning to program or create "Apps". Everyone is wired differently and the children who want to do art or music should get the best program Palo Alto can provide.






13 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 24, 2019 at 7:31 pm

How interesting that teachers feel free to use PAUSD email to email parents widely to lobby for their support about a job related issue, and to speak out publicly about what they feel is an injustice. Yet when parents want to do the same, speak up about an injustice to students, the teachers are nowhere to be seen or heard.

@To @ James: Please stop bashing and smearing parents.


12 people like this
Posted by What creativity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2019 at 9:32 pm

@cover up culture
You got it so right. It was almost laughable to hear"Good luck with creativity, individuality, following one’s own interests and inclibations(sic)," when creativity and individuality are so thoroughly crushed here, nothing to do with arts. Nancy Coffey is quite capable and this was sensible move.

I am so in agreement with you that if only teachers and board members were upstanders where it mattered.


9 people like this
Posted by To @ James
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 24, 2019 at 9:50 pm

Ummm, what creativity, have you never heard of a typo on a tiny screen like an iPad mini? Sorry. No need for your (sic).
I am not faulting the district, I merely noted that many parents, in my extensive experience here, appeared to value Mathematics over any creative endeavors. We are speaking in general terms, I realize Math can be creative. I refer to the Arts at the primary and secondary level. They are difficult to describe or place a value on, they are intrinsically vital to some people. In this Tech region, it is undeniable some are disinterested in Liberal Arts, libraries, etc. Some parents advocate very strongly for their children here, they used to demand they test out of (Jordan) 8th grade Math so they could go to Paly for Math, do BC Calc AP in junior year so they could takevsenior year across the street at Stanford. This took a lot of doing and some kids weren’t interested but they complied with this. Yes, I realze there have been “Math geniuses” here (prepped since age 3, there are articles you can find), but it appeared an over-emphasis on Math to the detriment of interest/support/valuing “The Arts” by many patents....
Apologzing in advance for any typos/auto corrects you find.


33 people like this
Posted by STUDENT
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 25, 2019 at 12:11 am

After reading many comments- Why can't we just all agree to not be aggressive and rude to the people affected by this issue?

For anyone that suggested "THIS is what teachers want to get upset about?" or statements related to such, please rethink your language and the weight of this problem.

This termination will be affecting the STUDENT POPULATION if not the teachers. To have dedicated mentors who finally speak up in front of the community for the first time in their career or just concerned teachers to defend their department and their passions because we are told that this is a democracy where we should be heard about internal issues and crisis, should be no surprise.

What shocks me is that some people in this community find it in themselves to put down the efforts of people who are caught in this misfortune.
Are we not all supposed to be part of a community that respects each other and compassion within one another?
And for some, their initial reactions are to shame at people are upset and affected.

At this conference, students, parents, current teachers, alumni, and even veteran teachers spoke out to this issue sincerely and properly voiced their points of view.

I feel ashamed to be part of a community that shame on the dedication and pain of others.
I hope these individuals that commented rudely and unkindly, please be compassionate and remove your negativity towards the mentors that are concerned.
Many of these speakers have been through so much and witnessed this on-going struggle for longer than most of us and have come forward to the public after so much silence; the criticism towards them in this forum shouldn't have been raised and they in no way, are obligated to be commented on in such a manner.

If you can only feel negativity towards these mentors, as a student- I can only imagine how you treat other teachers in our district. Please reconsider the words your say and find it in your soul to be understanding first and empathize with them.



14 people like this
Posted by Nina Teanah
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 25, 2019 at 12:53 am

Like many of us, I have been watching PAUSD wipe away the pleas of teachers (and parents) for too long while the creative venues for our students have gone to crud. We have to stop holding it in. If you have ever been on campus in the last 5 years, and forgotten to take a wizz at home first, you'll be intimately aware of the talented bathroom stall artists in the school with NO other outlet for their artistic vision. Art teachers know that these temporary "leadership switch-ups" mean nothing when what we need is someone who can sit on the throne for long enough to read the writing on the wall.

When will the district get off its cheeks and stop treating students like SAT scores? Someone needs to joggle the handle and flush out some of these elected officials who think they can save money by dumping vital program coordinators.

The artistic clog at Palo Alto schools will get heftier by the day unless we strain to push this issue at the polls. The superintendent has dirtied his hands here, and will keep making a mess unless we take the plunge.


6 people like this
Posted by What creativity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2019 at 1:39 am

@Student,
"For anyone that suggested "THIS is what teachers want to get upset about?" or statements related to such, please rethink your language and the weight of this problem. "

What language are you suggesting is wrong here? The bigger picture that you, thankfully, don't seem to be aware of is that some families, especially of those with special needs, have experienced pretty seriously bad treatment by the PAUSD administration over the years, and this current administration at best just wants to (like all the others when there was turnover) act like it never happened until they become guilty of it, too.

I'm talking about administrators who lie to teachers and site administrators, basically libeling families behind their backs, in order to get the teachers to behave badly toward the families, even bullying the children and creating toxic environments for them in school. Our district has even sued families with special needs children just to create stress (to get them to leave or not ask for the accommodations their children needed) -- the state even told them to stop it.

There are enough teachers who see this kind of thing who deep down know something is not right, and none of them, not even with tenure, ever stands up against it. Kim Diorio ended up fired because she kept asking the very same administrators who were causing the problems if she should investigate but felt it was okay to just do nothing so long as she had asked her superiors.

When you spend $100,000 in taxes for high school that pay for these people's salaries only for them to emotionally abuse your child thinking they have to because the district lawyers were fishing for boat payments and the administrators were using them to retaliate, then you might understand why someone would say THIS is what you stand up for.

Change is difficult. But this district simply has more administrators than it needs. Nancy Coffey will do a great job. This allows the administration to being in more actual art instruction. I hope this is followed by reducing PAUSD administrators in the district office.

Lastly,research into creativity finds that the majority of teachers say they support creativity, but that's because they don't actually understand what creativity is. Most teachers actually punish creativity, it turns out, and nowhere is it more evident than here. Pretty much in all areas of our schooling, not just art, compliance is rewarded, not creativity.

@ Student, online discussions are difficult because you can't hear someone's tone. My own post was neither rude nor aggressive. A very important life lesson for these times is that just because someone disagrees with your perspective or refutes an argument with facts, and just because someone expresses upset at a bad experience, does not mean they are being rude or aggressive. Given what many of these people have gone through, to lecture them about rudeness and aggression is what is hurtful. I understand you don't like a certain person leaving the district, I have stood up for teachers I didn't feel were treated well by the administration, too. But given what many in our district have gone through, I hope you can also understand what it feels like to see teachers stand up for this, but not against aggression and institutional abuse of families and special needs students.

@To@James,
There is no value judgment attached to the use of "sic" -- I was quoting your post, and didn't want to alter the text. Ironic I have to tell you that in a discussion about the importance of liberal arts. There was no need for you to take it badly and make a snide reply about it.


Like this comment
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2019 at 10:23 am

member1 is a registered user.



Be careful not to start pitting one field against another.

The Music lead has done an excellent job with the music programs at all the schools form K-12. All the groups do so well locally and even nationally. The one thing they do not do well is invite or promote themselves to the administration or board. Maybe the night concerts are too hard to go to, they could go to dress rehearsals during the school day and still be present. They are not really present at events so can't be aware of music programs that she start in Kindergarten and the wonderful end product with groups of kids that all know each other through high school. They should go to one of the first junior high practices and hear wrong notes and struggles and then go hear it again at the end for fun. Seeing kids stand up in the Jazz bands and play their first solo and then seeing the same ones again as seniors is just not something to be misses.

This lady is pretty talented at managing things and getting what the programs need. Be nice




11 people like this
Posted by Coverup Culture
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 25, 2019 at 9:28 pm

I didn't see any teachers rallying for students when the Paly robotics teacher was berating them and they had to file complaints.

Or when a student complained of sexual assault and harassment, and her teacher said "You should have picked a different boyfriend; you've caused me a lot of trouble."

Or when HS students had to miss classes and tests and make up that work to take the CAASPP; where were the teachers then?


18 people like this
Posted by Analysis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2019 at 1:33 am

I am a parent who has seen my own - now graduating from college PAUSD kid - and dozens of her classmates benefit majorly from this already stretched program.

My analysis the last time the district tried to “save money” with this line item was that we lost a ton by getting very little in return. It matters very much that this remain a district line item and not a booster type thing.

My broader analysis is that if the district is so weak that leadership cannot make a value judgement more comprehensive, holistically and transparently then how to trust ANY value judgements leadership makes?

I’m with you Art teachers and THANK YOU for standing up for students.


6 people like this
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2019 at 7:00 pm

member1 is a registered user.

Imagination is the highest form of research

Einstein.

why don't they know this? why are they so afraid of letting kids out of the boxes they keep making smaller and easier for them to lift, but harder for kids to fit in? Poor kids need room.



Like this comment
Posted by PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2019 at 8:36 pm

@Member1

Because they're burned out somewhere along the line or perhaps they had been marginalized in the past in any case all that remains is inert intelligence and selfish negligence.


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