Language arts department co-chairs say budget cuts will negatively affect student experience

by Cassie Lowery, ’13

As a result of the recent levy failure principal Emilie Greenwald has said all departments should expect cuts, with an estimated 25 teachers being let go across the district. As changes are occurring, one department has concerns that reach beyond the loss of fellow faculty.

The UAHS language arts department chairs Sean Martin and Diane Haddad claim the staffing cuts will negatively affect language arts instruction. The department currently provides a variety of personalized opportunities to help students develop their writing, such as the Writers Intervention Workshop (WIW). One of the biggest changes will be the WIW’s new standing as a “duty period” —a time during which teachers can grade papers or prepare lesson plans— rather than an instructional period, as it has been for the past 27 years. This will allow the administration to schedule a fifth class for English teachers to compensate for the reduction in staff.

Martin said these changes will dramatically influence the amount of one-on-one instruction students will receive.

“This will result in teachers taking on an additional 25 students and having one fewer period to conference with students outside of class,” Martin said. “Some of the best instruction happens in those one-on-one meetings.”

Haddad, who said she has conducted more than 250 individual conferences with students this year regarding college essays alone, is unsure she will be able to provide this service to students in the future.

“My greatest concern [about these changes] is the effect on students,” Haddad said. “They will not receive the individualized instruction and help that we currently provide, and I worry that this might affect preparation for college.”

While every department will face changes next year, Martin said this may be particularly challenging for their department due to the nature of the assignments.

“I think everyone will find teaching next year to be more difficult,” Martin said. “Adding 25 more research papers will equate to an additional 10-12 hours of grading per draft. Very little of this grading happens at school, so turn around time [to get edited writing back to students] will increase.”

Martin fears the added workload could result in fewer assignments and less writing practice for students.

“My peers in other districts who have similar teaching loads don’t assign as much writing and don’t allow students to submit multiple drafts of papers,” Martin said. “We will need to adjust.”

Budget cuts are always difficult; however, Haddad, who taught at UAHS during the last levy failure in the 1990s, said these dramatic changes are markedly different from her past experience.

“I taught in the district the last time a levy failed and a Reduction-In-Force took place,” Haddad said. “The experience was hard, but it was not as demoralizing as this time. Last time we knew why decisions were made; this time we don’t.”

Like Haddad, Martin also cited the lack of communication and collaboration between the administration and the faculty as a major problem in the way in which the cuts were decided.

“In regards to how we alter schedules, course offerings, conferencing and intervention time with students, [department chairs and teachers] have had no input,” Martin said. “We have proposed some ways to mitigate the impact of staffing cuts on our writing lab and on our conference period, but these have not been accepted by the administration.”

Although it is currently unknown which teachers will be cut, Martin said the scheduling changes creating the extra classes for language arts teachers has been finalized.

“Even if we pass a levy next year, the changes will not be reversed,” Martin said.

Upon hearing the levy failed, Hadded recalled feeling disappointed and surprised at the decision coming from a community she feels strongly values education.

“Community members need to understand what the return for their investment is for the quality of education we provide,” Haddad said.

Martin recognizes the reputation UA has achieved in education but fears it could now become difficult to live up to.

“With these staffing cuts,” he said, “I am not certain we can maintain our edge.”