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District Debates New Fine Arts School, Alarming Some

Nathan Reich, Rookie Reporter

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Talk of a district-run Fine Arts school opening in the old Sobesky Academy building on 20th Ave. and Hoyt St. has local teachers worried.

Plans for making a Jeffco Fine Arts school have been put forward by Dr. Jason E. Glass, superintendent of Jefferson County. The general idea is to have a school that caters to the needs of students interested in taking primarily arts classes.

One of the reasons behind this, according to Glass, is that the district has been losing students to charter schools at a slow but steady rate. He estimated that an approximate $75 million dollars have shifted out of the district-managed schools over the past five years. And, according to research, he said, a more arts-centered school is a desired school option for many students. While expressing an interest to “support all our schools to be competitive and successful, including our charter schools,” Glass stated that he feels he has “a responsibility to keep Jeffco Public Schools enrollment strong and our district viable.” He continued, saying that establishing a more arts-centered school could be a real benefit to the system and should at least be considered.

As of yet, however, nothing is decided. If opened, the school will serve grades 6-12 and will have three tracks during its first few years: visual arts, theater, and dance. Music programs would be added later on, although it is not clear when that would be.

According to Charles Craig, the instrumental music director at Wheat Ridge High School, the idea of an arts school separate from the high school art programs is not ideal.

In an interview after a meeting with the superintendent and the teachers’ union, Craig said, “The teachers are very much against [the idea of a Fine Arts school opening up].” While this is true, Glass acknowledged in an interview, there are also teachers who are in favor of the school and “even several who have expressed an interest in working at it if it were to open.”

One of the teachers against the opening of a Jeffco Fine Arts School is Ryan Plakorus, the vocal music director at Wheat Ridge High School. “There needs to be thought and time put into coming up with a clear vision. [If established] the school would need to address issues and must benefit the students,” he said in an interview last week.

When asked about the purpose of the meeting on the 29th, Craig said it was primarily for making sure the superintendent heard the concerns of the teachers and to find out under what conditions the teachers’ union would accept the establishing of such a school. Plakorus added that the meeting was to get a sense of perspective from both sides.

One important factor is that if the district arts school is not opened, a private or a charter school can rent the building–which would be even worse for the local schools, said Craig. “You can’t tear down a school,” he said. A district-run school at least has the best interests of the district at heart, he said. Both Craig and Plakorus agreed that a district-run school would be better than an outside charter school.

Glass also agreed that best interests of the district are important. One of the major concerns, he said, is that a fine arts school, even a district-run school, would take students away from the existing arts programs in the high schools and end up causing more harm than good. This is also the major concerns of Plakorus and Craig. If established, as Plakorus said, the school would need to benefit all, and this is a point upon which everyone agrees.

Glass stated that the most important thing is for Jeffco not to “polarize itself into divided camps immediately.” There are both compelling reasons and real concerns with opening an arts school such as the one proposed, and “all sides of this discussion … need to be heard.”

“I’m interested in how we can get to win/win and creative solutions,” he said.

The fate of the school is still up in the air and discussions continue into the spring semester.

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District Debates New Fine Arts School, Alarming Some