Changes to teaching model raise concerns for arts future in Halifax schools

A retired teacher says changes to the model for art education in Halifax schools amount to a cut in programming, but officials say the change means arts are being expanded.

6.6 positions covering 22 schools are being reallocated across the Halifax region

Dedicated art education for elementary and junior high students is a legacy of a system set up by the former City of Halifax and funded through municipal supplementary funding. (Nataliia Kulykovska/Shutterstock)

A former art teacher says a transition to art specialists in Halifax classrooms represents a cut in terms of programs, if not in numbers, and will have an impact on the quality of art education in city schools.

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE), formerly the Halifax Regional School Board, intends to expand art programs in elementary schools by replacing art teachers with art specialists.

Karen Schlick spent 30 years as an art teacher in Dartmouth. For two of those years, she worked as a visual art support teacher across 10 schools — a position she says is similar to what the art specialists will do. 

"It's extremely different from teaching in a regular art program where the students have contact with an art teacher on a weekly basis and they're supported in an individual way with developing their creativity and their art skill," she told CBC's Information Morning.

"The bottom line is with that many schools, and that many staff people, the amount of time you get to spend with any given teacher, or in any given classroom, is extremely limited."

Reallocating 6.6 positions

Dedicated art education for elementary and junior high students is a legacy of a system set up by the former City of Halifax and funded through municipal supplementary funding. Under that system, the equivalent of 6.6 full-time positions provided arts education to 22 schools. 

David Zinck, the HRCE's head of supplementary funded arts, said the change will make the funding more equitable. He said it will also expand access to arts education.

"Essentially what was happening is that taxpayers money in Sackville and Fall River was going towards arts support in the former Halifax city and the changes that the HRCE has made is to make this much more equitable and accessible," he said.

Pre-primary students in Halifax dabble in painting during class. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

He said under the current model, only 22 schools in Halifax benefit from enhanced art education, but everyone in the municipality pays for it. Meanwhile, there is no formal art education in the other schools.

Zinck said the change, which will see art instruction delivered by a classroom teacher, is in line with the provincial curriculum, which requires arts education to be included with classroom teaching. 

He said in addition to the new specialists who will serve the different families of schools within the HRCE, there will be one position created with an African-Nova Scotian focus and another with a Mi'kmaq focus.

The new positions haven't been earmarked for specific disciplines such as visual arts or drama.

Zinck said reallocating these positions will allow more art specialists throughout the region to support elementary school students. 

"Finally our board has a vision for the arts, where they want to go, and the expansion is going to continue. The long-term vision is that every family of schools will have at least one, if not two fine arts specialists," he said.

He acknowledged that there's a human toll for the 16 people whose positions have been reallocated, but said they can seek the new jobs.

"Those passionate and talented specialists, I really want and hope that they will apply for these new positions," said Zinck.

But Schlick said there's more than jobs at stake, and fostering children's creativity is a delicate balance that requires a relationship of trust between a teacher and student in an environment that's dedicated to teaching art.

"Sometimes students who are at risk do well in the art room and it's a place they can succeed, and with the support of a trained visual art teacher, they develop aspects of themselves that they wouldn't otherwise get to experience," she said.

"There's an art program that serves 22 … schools and that program is no longer going to exist. And that's a completely different ball of wax than taking one person who may or may not be trained in visual arts and having them work with teachers in 10 schools."

With files from Information Morning