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Outcry delays board's vote on plan to cut drama classes in favor of tech

Published 6:29 am, Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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  • Student, Theo Koskoff, was one of about a dozen people to speak during Monday's Board of Education meeting in support of keeping the 8th grade drama and presentation skills class. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    Student, Theo Koskoff, was one of about a dozen people to speak during Monday's Board of Education meeting in support of keeping the 8th grade drama and presentation skills class. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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A proposal to replace middle-school drama classes with engineering-tech offerings is on hold.

The Board of Education decided Monday night to delay a vote on making the change after hearing a delegation of parents and students oppose the plan.

On the agenda was an administrative proposal for the board to replace the eighth-grade Drama and Presentation classes with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes.

After about two hours of discussion and public comment, some board members felt they needed more time to think about the proposal before voting.

"Given what we have heard tonight, let's wait until next week to vote on this and get more input," said Elaine Whitney, the school board chairwoman.

She was referring to the dozen or so students and parents who spoke in favor of maintaining the drama/presentation curriculum. They included Theo Koskoff, an eighth-grade student who said the STEM program "doesn't seem to be focused on engineering or design."

"I enjoy acting and speaking," he said, adding that's what students learn in the drama/presentation classes. "Let's keep it for the eighth-graders," he said.

Other students, members of the Staples Players, the acting troupe at Staples High School, told board members the benefits they had derived from the drama/presentation class. All said it helped with their own public speaking. Jessica Gross, a senior, said she found that presentation skills are "extremely important." "I don't think that taking away this class will be helpful in the long run," she added.

But Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon said the drama/presentation program is not geared toward preparing students to be actors. "It's not theater," he said. "It's not to make them actors, directors or producers," but it does teach them how to "feel comfortable getting up in front of a crowd."

He added that the proposal would eliminate 18 meetings of the drama/presentation class over three years. "It's a very small amount," he said.

There were some in the audience, like parent Lily Bloomingdale, who supported STEM, saying it offers her children a well-rounded education, and another parent said her daughter told her it's one of her favorite classes.

Board member Michael Gordon asked Landon if there was an option, a "Plan B" to the proposal before the board.

"This is plan A, B and C," said Landon. "We have spent countless hours and looked at countless alternative scheduling and space availability," he added. "And this is the only plan.

Landon later noted that a number of students in the Staples Players had turned out to lobby the board in favor of their cause. In fact, parents of the Staples Players had sent emails to other parents urging them to attend Monday's meeting to oppose the proposal.

"If I told you I would cut art by one-half or reduce health" classes, there would be others coming to protest, Landon said. "And if it was music, thousands would be out here," he told the board.

Gordon said he'd like "some analysis on each of the options" to the proposed switch in offerings. "It would be helpful to hear the plus and minuses," he said.

Board member Brett Aronow added she'd like "a little more time to decide." She also suggested the board put the vote off "one more week."

Board member Mark Mathias agreed. "I'd prefer not to vote tonight," he said.

Whitney said the board will most likely vote at its next meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at Staples High School. If board members are still not ready, the vote would be rescheduled again.