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West Valley teachers worried over changes

Library, music schedules affected by district’s recent cutbacks

More than 100 teachers and staff members from the West Valley School District turned out for the school board meeting Wednesday to voice concerns about program changes due to an almost $750,000 budget shortfall.

The district did not lay off any teachers – savings were made through attrition and staffing changes. Around 16 staff members spoke.

“Our presence is very relevant to the success of our students,” said Carla Teegarden, a sixth-grade teacher at Centennial Middle School and the president of the West Valley Education Association, the teachers union.

Many teachers were concerned about changes to elementary school librarian schedules and music classes.

An elementary librarian left the district and an elementary music teacher decided to return to the classroom. Now elementary students receive two sessions a week with the librarian and one library session with their classroom teacher.

Joni Chambers, librarian at Pasadena Park Elementary, told the board students would miss out on key library skills with less time with the librarians. Librarians are responsible for teaching the students how to research subjects and other library skills, she said.

“Please reconsider the cuts to the libraries,” she said.

Melissa Fennen, a third-grade teacher also at Pasadena Park, agreed with Chambers. She said students are missing valuable pieces of their education such as research skills, outlining and dictionary skills. She also said there are no librarians before or after school available to students.

Centennial Middle School library media specialist Melissa McKinney gave the school board copies of research studies that supported libraries. She said the studies found that students at schools with libraries that are adequately staffed test higher than those at schools that aren’t.

The choir class at Centennial has been reduced to one class, combining sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Although there are still general music classes in the elementary schools, there are no choir classes, leaving Centennial without a feeder program.

Choir teacher Melissa Mills said sixth-graders are now being asked to learn how to sing for the first time while the seventh and eighth-graders lose interest.

One student approached her last year, worried that there would not be choir in the schools anymore. The student told Mills if that were the case, she would no longer attend school.

“Choir is her home and where she likes to be,” Mills said.

Former board member Debbie Hjortedal also spoke Wednesday.

“I’ve never seen this many people in the boardroom,” she said. She said she appreciated the job the teachers were doing and knows what a tough decision the cuts have been for the board.

“There is no easy answer,” she said. She hoped both sides would sit down and work out a compromise.

“It’s the right thing to do for kids,” Hjortedal said.