Last week at an Asbury Park Community Parent Forum, Interim Superintendent Rashawn Adams got a question from a parent, who had heard that visual arts programs had been cut. “What are the programs offered,” this parent asked, “and can you bring them back?”
Adams (full reply below, transcribed from this video, beginning at about the 43 minute mark) said that Asbury Park Public Schools had not cut its visual arts programs and, in fact, would never do such a thing because the arts are a “mainstay” of the district and “it would be unconscionable to not have music or visual or performing arts as a part of our educational program.”
He added, it would be bad “karma” to do so because “we have to make sure we are providing the best to [your family] to help me take care of mine.” And, “despite what others around may say, feel, or think,” Adams continued, the district offers “the best options in this area for your children.”
Except none of it’s true. But let’s stick to Visual Arts.
Last summer, when Sancha Gray was in her third year of replacing Gov. Murphy’s former Education Commissioner as superintendent, and while Adams was “Director of Planning, Research and Assessment” (an odd administrative post for a district with 1,700 students), Asbury Park Public Schools cut three visual arts positions. And Adams should know this because one of his responsibilities as Director was managing Human Resources.
The result of the staff cuts is that there are no dedicated Visual Arts teachers in any of the elementary schools.. Currently there are only two visual arts teachers employed in the district, one at the high school/middle school (grades 7-12) and the other at Martin Luther King, Jr. Upper Elementary School(grades 4-6).
The NJ Student Learning Standards includes visual arts. From the Standards: “The vision of all students having equitable access to a quality arts education is only achieved when the five arts disciplines are offered continuously throughout the K–12 spectrum.”
Meanwhile, Asbury Park’s Visual Arts course content standards are still listed on its website.
Now, let’s be fair. The New Jersey Department of Education regulations permit regular classroom teachers to instruct students in the arts, “as long as such instruction does not constitute more than one-half of the teacher’s assignment.” Yet sources tell me that in 2014 when Lamont Repollet came to Asbury Park as its new superintendent (Murphy hired him as Commissioner in 2018), district elementary schools each had at least one full-time Visual Arts teacher and most schools had two. Every year there would be an Annual Arts Showcase at the Asbury Park Convention Hall, a big deal for students and their teachers, a “huge highlight,” I was told.
That Showcase no longer exists.
That’s probably bad karma.
Here are Superintendent Adams’ full remarks in answer to the parent’s question:
“No, we have not cut our art programs…Arts is an important part of our district. When we start talking about resources and start talking about activities, not all of our students are going to be athletes. We wouldn’t dream of cutting our athletic programs nor would we dream of cutting our music or arts programs. Those are the things that are a mainstays of our programs. Not everyone is going to be an athlete. We want to make students express themselves sure, with visual and performing arts, that we are offering those opportunities.
So, no, we in Asbury Park are not cutting. We have a great partnership with Lakehouse they come in and provide our students with great teaching from practitioners in the music industry. From each and every area of the arts we make sure we support those in every capacity. It would be unconscionable to not have music or visual or performing arts as a part of our educational program….
We do this for your children. Your children provide all the adults who work in this district the opportunity to take care of their parents. Karma, we have to make sure we are providing the best to help me take care of mine. I am reminded of that every day I drive home, every day I come to work.I want to thank you for entrusting your children to the Asbury Park school district. It is a place unique, it is a place with a tradition, a place with long memories, it is a place that I believe can provide your children, despite what others around may say, feel or think, the best options in this area for your children.”