Randolph Student Advocates Fight Widespread School Educator and Staff Cuts

A dance show held at the Donovan School, 2014, image by Sharon Swain

District issues pink slips eliminating arts, phys ed and social services positions

McGRATHPR.com – The Randolph Public School community was jolted this week when a significant number of staff and faculty were informed that they were laid off by pink slips received by mail from the district’s administration.  Among those notified are all grade K-12 art teachers, music teachers and gym teachers, as well as multiple guidance and adjustment counselors. The total number currently cut, and whether more cuts will be announced, is still unconfirmed by the district.  Cut staff members anticipate not returning to school and their students this fall.  

In a letter to the community and staff on Monday, Randolph Public Schools’ Superintendent Thea Stovell cites that the elimination of these positions are due to operational challenges, budget cuts and an anticipated 10 to 20% reduction in local aid.  The announcement follows announcements earlier in May that indicated teacher’s aides and food service staff would be furloughed.

Word of the eliminated positions spread quickly in the Randolph community.  Advocate supporters quickly rallied, creating Support the Students of Randolph, a group organized nearly instantaneously on Facebook, currently attracting 2,228 members.  The group launched a petition, Save the Randolph Arts on change.org, seeking to maintain level funding of local aid, and to maintain the increase in Chapter 70 funding for cities and towns as part of the Student Opportunity Act.  The petition has received widespread support, with 17,882 signatures at last count. The viral popularity of the support initiative demonstrates how dedicated residents, parents, students, alumni and educators are to the students and their education, organizing letter writing campaigns to government officials, contemplating a rally and attending town meetings in their effort to ensure that these decisions are reversed.

The door to the Donovan School’s Music Room, 2017, image by Sharon Swain

The layoff announcement comes at a time of uncertainty and high stress for the community.  Randolph Public Schools’ students have been finishing out the current school year from home, participating in remote learning since March 13, and have yet to be informed of the administration’s vision for the 2020-21 school-year.  Already burdened by the vast changes incurred by Covid-19 and social distancing mandates, students will undoubtedly look to these revered programs and services being cut for solace and support in the wake of widespread difficulty.  With the current state of affairs of the pandemic, properly trained staff are more valuable than ever before to sustain a whole education and sustain much needed support services.

The Randolph school district recently placed Social Emotional Learning (SEL) at the forefront of its plans and school improvement goals.  These cuts notably contradict that effort, limiting students’ access to vital programs that allow self-expression through art, music and movement with the elimination of K-12 specialists.  

Identified by the most diverse community in the state of Massachusetts (Source: Niche.com with data from the U.S. Census), nearly 62% of its ethnically diverse population is from cultural minorities.  The current average household income of residents at $90,812 with a poverty rate of 10.81% contributes to socio-economic challenges faced by Randolph students, with 48.1% considered economically challenged, and a higher than state average percentage considered at-risk or high needs.

Seemingly undervalued as a whole by the administration, the arts program cuts in particular inspired a swift rise in the community voice to activist status, quickly assembling testimonials and support from current students, community members, regional and former educators and alumni, many who have gone on to highly successful careers in the arts.  Dr. Eric Laprade taught instrumental music at many of the district’s schools from 2008 to 2013, also serving two years as the K-12 music department chairperson.  “In a community as beautifully diverse as Randolph, the arts are the essential element that bring people together. During my time as a music educator in Randolph, I witnessed first-hand the life-long impact of curricular, high-quality arts education on each student in the district and the community as a whole. While the means with which we deliver the curriculum might change, the fundamental role of the arts in developing the next generation of creative, reflective, and empathetic citizens is more important now than ever,” shares Laprade. “Given the uncertainty surrounding what education will look like in the fall, it is so important to have experts–the educators and staff within each discipline–engaged in developing methods and best practices for delivering such vital curriculum.” Still an active educator in the region, Laprade recognizes the talent, commitment, and dedication of the current arts teachers.  “They invest tirelessly in their students, and as a result the arts programs have received regional and national recognition. The transformative work of these educators provides life-long enrichment to both the students and community.

Randolph Middle School’s production of the musical Hairspray, April, 2019, image by Cristine Ackles

In a study by the National Endowment for the Arts (Source: The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth), 71% percent of young adults who experienced a high level of arts in their education went on to attend a college, whereas only 48% did of students who experienced a low-arts education went on to pursue higher education.  In the same study, it was noted that both 8th-grade (74%) and high school students (61%)  who had high levels of arts engagement were more likely to aspire to college than were students with a low-arts experience.  High school students who earned few or no arts credits at all were five times more likely not to have graduated than students who earned many arts credits.

The recent American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) study, School Reentry Considerations: Supporting Student Social and Emotional Learning and Mental and Behavioral Health Amidst COVID-19 lays out guidelines on how local education agencies and individual schools must prioritize efforts to address social and emotional learning and mental and behavioral health needs upon their return to school.  One standard to uphold is to “ensure at minimum a maintenance of existing positions, and aspire to national recommendations.”  These national recommendations (also adopted by the MA affiliate MASCA) advise a 1:250 counselor to student ratio.  With 2,087 Randolph Public School students reported by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in the 2019-2020 school year at the K-8 grade level, that would equal a minimum of 8-9 counselors on staff.  

Support the Students of Randolph logo by Shana Blanc, age 13, an 8th grader at Randolph Community Middle School, courtesy image

Adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2007, and amended in 2018, MassCore is a state recommended program of study intended to align high school coursework with college and career readiness.  The arts and physical education are vital components to this framework, requiring one unit of arts education and the “required amount” of physical education as determined by law in order to graduate.   How, and if, these courses will be taught to students is now in question.

Members of Support the Students of Randolph have organized to have a presence at tomorrow’s Executive Session of a Randolph School Committee meeting, and other official meetings with the district in the days ahead in its mission to support the eliminated teachers and staff, the whole education of Randolph’s students, with a goal of reversing the decisions of the district.  To learn more about Support the Students of Randolph’s advocacy initiatives, visit the Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/SupportTheStudentsOfRPS/ or visit its website at supportrandolphstudents.com.

Public relations and media administration services provided to the Support the Students of Randolph initiative as a Michelle McGrath PR advocacy project.