By Kim Siebert MacPhail
A program review process that spanned two years—starting with a self-study in 2010, followed by visiting team evaluations in March of 2012, and ending with two presentations to the School Committee in April and November 2012—has given the Art Department of the Bedford Schools a clear path for improvement.
“We know what we need to do,” said Art Program Administrator Aleta Devaney. “It won’t happen overnight but we will be working toward these goals.”
The goals, as detailed by Devaney at the November 27 School Committee meeting, can be sorted into several categories: time, curriculum, assessment, communication and technology.
Greater attention to how time can be best used—both in the classroom and for professional development—was one of the key findings of the program review team.
Devaney noted that “one of the biggest concerns at the elementary level was the scheduling of the art classes.” At Davis and Lane schools, the schedule is static, meaning that it does not rotate as it does at the upper schools. Classes that have art on early release Wednesdays are shortchanged weekly due to shorter class periods that accommodate the early dismissal. Students with art on Wednesdays routinely have only 20 minutes of creative time before they have to clean up and return to their regular classroom. Devaney calculates that, over the course of a year, students with Wednesday art have 3 hours less than those who take the class on another day of the week.
Additionally, at the elementary levels, one class is scheduled to end at exactly the same time that another is supposed to begin. This is unrealistic for courses to which students travel to and from the regular classroom, particularly for hands-on subjects like art.
Devaney also addressed the need to re-configure professional development time so that teachers can meet “vertically”, as a department,allowing them to connect, especially, between schools. It is believed that providing collegial time will result in better curriculum alignment.
The program review also found that professional development should include training in Understanding by Design for the elementary schools’ art faculty. Understanding by Design is an educational approach that has been adopted by the Bedford Schools. Curriculum frameworks and assessment training is needed, additionally, to achieve consistency throughout the department.
The program review recommended that the middle school update its Art Department scope and sequence. This means that course content and flow from grade-to-grade might change.
Devaney said that graphic arts at the high school would undergo an update, noting that this year the course was so under-subscribed that it didn’t run, though ceramics classes have been over-enrolled. Several School Committee members suggested that students may be seeking a break from high-technology and opting, instead, for the hands-on, physical medium that ceramics provides.
Teachers at the high school will also develop “curriculum maps”, starting with the courses that are taught by two or more teachers, so that content and assessment standards will be shared.
Interdisciplinary opportunities will be identified more intentionally in the future as well.
Devaney noted that students have expressed uncertainty about what constitutes A, B, or C level work. Therefore, a clearer rubric will be developed and communicated.
The need for improved communication to students and parents was another finding of the study. Devaney said that better use of teacher course websites will improve access to course information. School Committee member Noreen O’Gara recommended using social media platforms like Flikr and Pinterest to provide students and parents with a vivid connection to current classroom work, a suggestion that Devaney found both exciting and easy to accomplish.
Devaney wants art faculty to again participate in the Back to School nights that are hosted by each of the schools. Art teachers used to be included but the practice was discontinued at some point, contributing to the communication disconnect between school and home.
Smartboards and iPads would allow art classrooms to expand beyond their walls. Devaney hopes that resources will become available so that art classrooms will be able to access these devices. School Committee members agreed and recommended that Devaney consider applying for Bedford Education Foundation grant money to jumpstart the initiative.
Asked by Chair Anne Bickford to comment on the program review process, Devaney responded that, generally speaking, the overall program review process was valuable.
“Some parts of writing the report were tedious. The highlight was the actual visit. The thing that we dreaded the most—having people from other schools come watch us and look at us and observe our classrooms…strangers who came from pretty high-performing districts—was a little unnerving but we found those people were very supportive. I now run into some of them at shows and courses and art directors’ meetings. That really was the highlight. The teachers feel the same way about the colleagues [they met] from other schools.
“The [visiting] team reported that they wished that they could have watched more classes in session…We had a three day visit and we had six team members and we tried to divide it up so every grade level was seen and so they could meet with the principals. They met with guidance counselors and as many people as they could. But, I don’t think they felt that they had as much time to visit classrooms as they would have liked.
“They really enjoyed interviewing the students. They said the high school and middle school students were terrific. And the parent community was also pretty honest and easy to talk to so that part was strong, too.”