Tullahoma City Schools may add four new fine arts educators to its staff, according to discussion held at the Tuesday, Feb. 6 school board study session.
Pat Welsh, chairman of the Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education, said the board is considering adding more teachers in fine arts in order to address some staffing needs at the elementary schools in Tullahoma.
Atticus Hensley, band director for both East and West middle schools, addressed the board with what he feels is needed for the district.
He said while the general state of the fine arts programming is in an excellent position compared to other districts he has seen and visited, there is an “imminent retirement” problem the district will need to address sooner rather than later.
Specifically, he said, the elementary music and art teaching positions were vulnerable, as educators like Chris Gregory, music teacher at Robert E. Lee and East Lincoln elementary schools, may retire in the coming years.
The issue there, he said, is that the district would have trouble finding qualified applicants with the skill set Gregory possesses.
“We’re never going to find another Chris Gregory,” he said. “What we will have trouble finding are qualified applicants for that kind of position.”
Elementary music teachers are a special breed of educator, he said, and not everyone can do that kind of job.
“Elementary people in general — just like kindergarten teachers — are special people because they can do things that most human beings cannot. Those elementary art (and) elementary music people are the same,” he said.
“They live in a very different world and can function at a different level from most of us.”
In the past, Hensley said, he and some of the elementary school principals have had difficulty putting together a strong applicant pool for previous elementary arts positions.
The trouble, he said, is the demands placed upon them by the district.
Currently, there is one art teacher and one music teacher for two different elementary schools. They split their weeks between each school in order to give as well-rounded an art or music education to elementary students as they can.
The art teacher for East Lincoln and Robert E. Lee elementary schools is Kelly Orr. The Bel-Aire and Jack T. Farrar elementary schools art teacher is Michelle Cantrell.
Music at East Lincoln and Lee is run by Gregory. Gates Craighead is the music teacher for both Bel-Aire and Farrar.
Each teacher is put under an enormous amount of pressure in order to perform their jobs, Hensley said.
“The ones that we have in those positions now, they are doing missionary work,” Hensley said. “They’re doing it because they love it, not because they have to.”
However, he said, trying to find teachers who would be willing to take on that large a task would lead to a lack of candidates.
“Finding someone who wants to work two schools, separate rooms, on their own is a difficult task,” he said.
Rather than picking applicants who truly want to do the work, Hensley said, he worries the district would be forced to pick applicants who were only in desperate need of work.
The demands of the elementary arts educators, Hensley said, had led the district to lose one art teacher to a district where she would only be teaching in one classroom in one school.
Andrea Wetzel, who was the art teacher for both East Lincoln and Robert E. Lee elementary schools, resigned in December.
Wetzel is one in a pattern that Hensley has seen take place when searching for elementary fine arts educators. Specifically, the search for Wetzel’s replacement saw a number of applicants turn down the district for less loaded positions, he said.
“We had other choices who turned us down in favor of school districts… where they would have one room (and) one school,” Hensley said.
In a perfect world, Hensley said, he would like to see one full-time music teacher and one full-time art teacher at each elementary school.
“To me,” he said, “the best case scenario would be there’s a person in every building every day, period.”
Board member Kim Uselton agreed, saying the district is well aware of the benefits of a good fine arts education.
“We’re a system that really values and knows the importance of academics, arts and athletics,” she said. She also said having more full-time arts educators in the system had been a budget priority of hers for the last five years or so.
“That just gives more opportunity for us to make connections with kids who may need those arts connections,” she said.
The elementary schools have the space for those full-time positions, too, according to Debbie Edens, principal at Farrar.
“It’s interesting,” she said, “that the only rooms we have are art and music —that would not be a challenge at all for us.”
Woody Dillehay and Scott Hargrove, the principals at Lee and East Lincoln, respectively, agreed with Edens’ statement, adding they thought having those positions available at their schools full-time would enrich their students’ education further.
Hensley said he hoped the board would be able to make this happen by the coming school year, with which the board agreed.
Final discussions concluded with agreeing to look into the costs of adding two more elementary art teachers and two more elementary music teachers.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.