Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger
Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger has a master’s degree in educational administration and has been principal at Lusher Alternative Elementary School for 21 years. When she became principal in 1981, Lusher had 500 students in kindergarten to sixth grade and ranked 13th in the district on standardized test scores. As of spring 2002, Lusher has 1,100 students at two sites, serves students through eighth grade, and is the top-scoring school in the district and the highest-scoring school in the state with a significant poverty rate.

Q. Briefly describe the role of the arts at Lusher.

A. At Lusher, the arts play many roles. They offer new perspectives and provide new strategies for teaching and learning in the traditional content areas. Lusher teachers use paintings to teach color concepts in science, use dance to teach about geometry and sets in math, and use drama to extend reading and writing lessons.

The arts are also a central, essential part of the Lusher curriculum in their own right. Lusher teachers create lessons and units about the artists included in our arts curriculum because they believe that these artists are an important part of what every child needs to know. They believe that knowing about the arts can add beauty, feeling, richness, and complexity of thought to the lives of their students. At Lusher, an important role of the arts is to make that beauty, feeling, richness, and complexity part of every child’s daily life at school and to inspire children to keep the arts as a significant part of their lives.

Q. What arts specialists do you have at Lusher? How do you fund the arts programs at Lusher?

A. The following arts specialists work at the Lusher elementary site: one music teacher, a “half” dance teacher, a “half” drama teacher, a “half” talented-in-theatre teacher, one talented-in-visual-art teacher, and an itinerant talented-in-music teacher who comes a couple of hours per week. “Half” teachers also work at the middle school site.

Staffing for specialists comes from our regular staffing formula (allocated from student enrollment). A part of the music position is provided by the school district. The “talented” teachers are provided by the state-funded gifted and talented program. Grants, PTA support, and other fundraisers fund the other aspects of the arts program, supplies, and staff development.

Q. How long have you had a Leadership Team at Lusher?

A. The Leadership Team was established in 1998, when Lusher did a complete renewal of its commitment to the arts in becoming both a district and citywide school with the theme of Celebrating Cultural Diversity Through High Academics and the Arts. The Leadership Team evolved out of an advisery committee started in 1985. The advisery committee was composed of upper- and lower-grade chairs, a union representative, and a ranking teacher. The committee members changed yearly depending on teacher elections. In the process of reaffirming our school vision and mission, we decided that the advisery committee would continue and be responsible for school operations.

It was felt that in order to achieve our goal of a shared vision and maintain our focus of a high academic program that integrates the arts into all aspects of the program, a Leadership Team needed to be formed to be responsible for maintaining our vision and filtering other aspects of the program through that vision.

Q. Do the participants in the Leadership Team vary from year to year?

A. Yes, but there is slight variation due to teacher movement and change of circumstances. The team is composed of both veteran and new teachers from various grade levels. There is one arts specialist on the team. The message is clearly that the arts program is not the responsibility of the arts specialists. Even if we had no specialists, the arts would still be an integral part of our program through the regular classroom teachers.

Q. Describe the time commitment of the Leadership Team members.

A. The team meets at least once a month and usually more often. (Our school had a fire this year, which made things a lot different. Survival was the theme.) Meetings are held before, during, and sometimes after the school day. Meetings range from 20 minutes to several hours. The team is always consulted before policy decisions are made.

Q. What kinds of issues does the Leadership Team address over the course of the year?

A. Curriculum issues and policies affecting the instructional program are handled through the Leadership Team. This year, they provided valuable support and leadership in the time after the fire to direct instructional decisions. This summer [2002] they are working on a curriculum project using the state standards and arts standards to streamline lesson plans ... and assist teachers in developing instructional units. The team also makes recommendations on how district initiatives fit into our school vision.

Q. Describe the Arts Celebration and give examples of similar projects.

A. The Arts Celebration is held yearly to showcase student work in all of the art forms. It is usually a collaborative effort of students, teachers, and parents for both the elementary and middle school sites. The exact form changes yearly (they keep me guessing) and often centers on a school theme.

Environmental nights are also held at the middle school and elementary students participate in these events. In the past we have had the Renaissance Feast, the Greek Feast, and last year a multi-arts, inquiry-based production called Quest that was written, directed, choreographed, and staged by students. Student artwork and performances are also showcased at our Annual Crawfish Boil — a community celebration and our largest fundraiser.

This year, students welcomed back the two women who integrated Lusher 40 years ago for a two-day Diversity Celebration where student artwork, poems, dances, musical tributes, and writings were used to commemorate the cultural diversity so valued in our program.

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