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City billing teacher-sharing as a way to keep arts positions filled

More than 50 schools have signed up for a new matchmaking program to help them pool positions.

The Department of Education has created a centralized process for principals looking to share teachers with another school —having a teacher work a few days a week at one school, and the rest of the week at another. In a notice to principals, the city said sharing teachers “may be a particularly efficient way to provide arts instruction.”

In the process’s first month, 38 schools have indicated interest in gaining a shared teacher. Eighteen of the schools are looking for an art, music, or dance teacher. Another 28 schools have indicated that they have someone to share, including nine arts teachers, according to DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan.

It’s a positive step toward providing more students with access to the arts, according to Richard Kessler, director of the nonprofit Center for Arts Education. But he’s not convinced principals have the support they need to share teachers effectively.

Splitting teacher schedules presents a logistical challenge for the principals who pay their salaries and teachers who might have to travel. Kessler said those logistical difficulties are one reason why the practice has become rare after being relatively common in the 1980s.

“The majority of principals just don’t know how you share faculty from school to school,” Kessler said, adding that he did not know of any schools currently sharing arts teachers. “There was a reason why it disappeared — it gets tricky traveling from one school to another. But in tough times, this is certainly better than nothing.”

Morgan said the city has always encouraged schools to share teachers. But at a time when principals citywide have been forced to excess teachers because of budget cuts, making it easier to share teachers (and, therefore, share their salaries) has obvious appeal.

Doug Israel, CAE’s director of research and policy, said he sees sharing teachers as common sense, especially as the increase in small schools and co-located schools has created many small staffs in close proximity to each other. His worry is that the city is encouraging the practice for big schools, too. For those schools, teacher-sharing could allow a reduction in arts staff rather than an augmentation.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Israel, who wrote a report released in June that detailed a steep decline in the city’s arts education funding since 2006. “You don’t ever want to see principals getting rid of their teachers.”

The teacher-sharing system was also listed as a step forward in a recent report from the Arts Education Committee to the Panel for Educational Policy, which outlines a set of basic goals for arts instruction by 2014. The report’s first goal is for all schools to comply with state and city requirements, including providing instruction by certified arts teachers.

“We need to maximize the impact of all teachers of the arts across school sites to assure that certified teachers are reaching as many students as possible,” the report says.

Even if the teacher-sharing initiative is widely used, it would only address a small piece of the larger problem of a lack of funding for arts programs. According to Israel’s report, 23 percent of city schools had no licensed arts teachers last year, even on a part-time basis.

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