Gymnasiums across the Higley Unified School District are being sliced into sections by huge curtains cramping students who share the space for lunch, physical education, dance or drama class.
The district mandated that sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders must take a performing arts class in band, orchestra, drama or dance beginning this school year.
But both teachers and the superintendent acknowledge that finding adequate space has been a problem, as well as turnover in performing arts teachers.
Four middle school performing arts teachers have handed in their resignations or have been terminated in the past six months.
Carla Mann, a former drama teacher with the district, said requiring the performing arts classes is “a wonderful idea.”
But Mann left in December because the program was “hell on wheels.”
“They wanted to go in head first . . . and work out the problems” later, she said. “With the arts, it’s tough.”
Robert Farnsworth, a physical education teacher at Gateway Pointe Elementary School, said the mandated performing arts classes restricts what they can do.
He said some students are forced to sit out and take turns playing athletic games because there is not enough room to break everyone into teams — unlike the other gym periods when there are no conflicting classes. Or, Farnsworth said, the students have to play outside.
“When we had that heat advisory (at the beginning of the year), we were outside having P.E. and one side was being used for dance and the other side was used for elementary P.E. and that forced middle school outside for six of the nine weeks,” he said.
Superintendent Joyce Lutrey said the schedule was designed to allow classroom teachers a common planning period to discuss instruction.
“We do have some struggles,” she said. “We need to improve that. It is a concern. Whenever you do anything that is much of a change there is always things you can tweak and do and improve.”
She said the district has just begun reviewing scheduling solutions to solve the space problem. Lutrey said the district also was hiring a director to oversee “all aspects” of the performing arts curriculum.
“We are moving forward. We are improving,” she said.
Trisha O’Rourke, president of the San Tan Elementary School PTO, said not having adequate space for the classes affects the students.
“They are embarrassed,” she said, “because they are out in front of everyone walking by and not in a classroom. It might scrunch down their well-being of being able to do what they want to do.”