Discussion of future Jeffco visual arts school leaves unanswered questions

The board will reconvene Nov. 28 to talk more

Posted 11/6/18

After an hour of presentation and discussion with the Jefferson County Board of Education and the planning committee for a future Jeffco School of Art and Design Nov. 1, questions were left …

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Discussion of future Jeffco visual arts school leaves unanswered questions

The board will reconvene Nov. 28 to talk more

Posted

After an hour of presentation and discussion with the Jefferson County Board of Education and the planning committee for a future Jeffco School of Art and Design Nov. 1, questions were left unanswered.

From December 2017 to June 2018, a strategic plan for the arts in Jeffco Public Schools was developed. This plan includes supports for music, theater, and visual arts across the entire system. Another component of this plan is the consideration of a Jeffco School of Art and Design focusing on visual arts and core content through project based learning.

Since August, a group of 18 visual arts teachers and five central staff have helped to plan for the opening of this school. The board heard from representatives of this group in a study session Nov. 1.

“This school is designed around a highly focused art students — the student that creates art on a regular basis and works art into other projects already,” explained Scot Odendahl, graphic design and digital photography instructor at Warren Tech and a member of the study group. “For example this student would rather create a paper sculpture or drawing for their science presentation rather than a picture they find in Google. They might carry a sketchbook between classes and work on their art work through all their free time. This student excels in current art class many times going above and beyond the art projects. Many times this student just lives for art.”

There are currently 186 students who live in Jefferson County who choose to attend an arts school outside Jeffco, which Flores says is representative of the number of students that are seeking more customizable options for the arts.

The logistics

The goal would be to open the school to students in sixth through ninth grade with 50 students at each grade level in August 2019. Each year thereafter, they would add one grade level and 50 more students until the school becomes 6-12.

The impact to other district schools would be a loss of about three students at each grade level.

The school would be part of the January 2019 choice enrollment session, with those interested needing to provide a one-page letter explaining their passion, interest and identity in the arts.

Staff would include a principal, eight teachers — four for core classes and four arts teachers — with the idea that teachers collaborate to include the arts in core classes and vice versa. There will also be instructional coaches, counselors and other support staff.

The proposed school would occupy the district-owned building at 20th Avenue and Hoyt Street in Lakewood, which used to be home to Sobesky Academy until it relocated to a new building in 2016. The facility has been vacant since.

The team said this building was a desirable space because it was more centrally located making it accessible to all students in Jeffco, has space for outdoor classrooms, and has big windows and natural lighting.

The facility would need upgrades to ventilation and additional furniture to support visual arts classes. It would also need an addition of 50 lockers.

According to Matt Flores, chief academic officer for Jeffco schools, the estimated cost of repairs to the building would be $500,000, paid for out of existing capital funds.

A cost analysis of the school projected that initial cost to hire a principal could come from the Jeffco Innovation Acceleration Fund, of which the proposed school has submitted an application. In addition to capital costs, Flores said programing costs are estimated at $450,000. If the school meets projected enrollment, an additional $180,000 is estimated to be needed in the first year. After that, Flores predicts that the school would run on the school based budgeting model.

The financials caused the most concern from the board — especially with the fate of the district’s proposed bond and mill still undecided at the time.

“If we don’t get new funding we are going to be facing serious budget problems in about three months,” said board member Brad Rupert, who was the most outspoken critic of the proposed school at the meeting. “I’m not willing to say starting up a new visual arts oriented school is more important than hiring mental health support in our schools in the face of budget cuts. I’m not willing to say it’s more important than a variety of safety and security measures that we heard talked about in last months meeting. I think we have quite a number of other priorities.”

Rupert went onto say that even if the district did get new funding, funding a school of the arts wasn’t in the priorities the district put out to the community. He also requested a full operating report for the proposed school similar to one that a charter school would need to present to the board.

“Don’t think that I’m not supportive of visual arts in schools,” Rupert said. “But I’m also realistic about the track that puts our students on and how that fits them in the context of our economy and the job market out there.”

Odendahl countered Rupert’s viability concerns saying that the purpose of this school is to give students an opportunity to see what an economically viable artist does by introducing them to professionals in a variety of fields.

Rupert also questioned if sixth graders are old enough to define themselves through the eyes of the arts.

Moving forward

Glass said that if the district were to move this forward with the visual arts school, it will come back to the board in December for approval. Enrollment would be offered through Enroll Jeffco as one of the option schools in January.

“The timeline is fairly tight,” said board president Ron Mitchell. “We can’t string this out for the next three months and still open this school.”

The one hour allotted time slot for discussion before the board’s regularly scheduled meeting was not enough for the board to feel comfortable with the information presented to them.

“The problem here is that there are several more questions I think need to be explored,” Mitchell said.

Because of this, Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass recommended that the board add a special meeting to their calendar later in November to complete the discussion and work individually with board members to address specific questions and concerns.

That meeting was later scheduled for 5 p.m., on Nov. 28, at the district's Ed Center — 1825 Denver West Drive, Golden.

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