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New classroom size limits could impact arts, PE programs at GCS

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Guilford County Schools Arts Education Coordinator Nathan Street is proud of the growth he’s seen in the arts opportunities within the school system. He says music, theater, drawing and dance positively impacts the lives of children.

“Studies show arts programs help to make them more well-rounded,” Street said. "And helps to get them ready for college, and the work place and think outside the box.”

When he joined the system in 2008, his goal was to expand the arts options in all schools. Nine years later, he uses the words “decorated” and “robust” to associate with the the numerous arts opportunities.

Street says state legislation going into effect this fall could impact the arts in Guilford County Schools and will potentially impact other departments.

Next school year, there will be new classroom size maximums at the elementary level -- specifically for grades kindergarten through third.

State leaders have set the following parameters for classroom maximums:

  • Kindergarten = 21 students
  • 1st grade = 19 students
  • 2nd grade = 20 students
  • 3rd grade = 20 students

For Guilford County Schools, that means creating additional classrooms for students, which in turn, means hiring more teachers. School officials say they may have to take away current positions from the arts and P.E. departments in order to find the funding to pay for additional classroom teachers.

“Where we’ve used teachers that the state’s given us to provide art teachers, music teachers, P.E. teachers in our elementary schools, we would have to start using those positions for classroom teachers,” said Angie Henry, chief financial officer with the school system.

The thought of less arts and P.E. opportunities at the elementary level is upsetting to Street, especially after all the work the school system has done to invest in these programs.

“It is unnerving. And at this point we don’t want to unnecessarily create a bunch of fear in our teachers. Because I do feel like working together, we can get our state legislature to fix this,” Street said. "Smaller class sizes is exactly what needs to happen for all of our schools. But not at the expense of losing other programs like art, music and P.E. Some of these are the kids' only outlets -- there are some kids who only come to school for arts, music and P.E."

Guilford County Schools says it would need $16 million to make the necessary changes to comply with the new rule without impacting their current arts and P.E. programs. At this time, Guilford County Schools has limited options on where they can get those additional funds.