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After years on hold, Albuquerque Public Schools’ fine arts expansion is moving forward.
Executive Director of Fine Arts Gina Rasinski said the district is poised to continue its track record of expanding music and art programs to all of its 88 elementary schools. So far, it’s gotten that done in 60 of them – more than two thirds.
“It’s part of educating our students, it’s not a frill, it’s not … extra – it’s part of their education,” she said.
In 2017, the APS board asked Rasinski what it would take to expand art and music programs to all of its elementary schools. She came back with a dollar amount the board said was too steep to implement all at once, and board members decided instead on a phased approach. Phases were rolled out roughly each school year.
In 2020, Phase 3 of APS’ plan stalled, when Rasinski said the world “came to an end” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this January, the district was able to add 16 schools as part of the third phase of its fine arts expansion. Four more schools will receive the expansion during the coming school year, rounding Phase 3 out.
Rasinski hopes Phase 4 will happen in the 2023-2024 school year, and that Phase 5 will happen the year after that. Those phases will likely only require 13 teachers, while other phases have required hiring as many as 20.
Each phase has cost about $1.1 million, Rasinski said, and APS has footed the bill. The money is used to pay for new teachers, supplies, professional development and other support.
On May 18, the board approved Rasinski’s $9.9 million Fine Arts Education Act application to the New Mexico Public Education Department. That would cover over half the $17 million cost of all APS arts, music and drama programs, she estimated.
Rasinski said that because of dropping enrollment, she got approval from the district to shuffle teachers with fewer students around, so Phase 3 could be completed without hiring new teachers. APS projects it will employ 172 elementary fine arts teachers in the 2022-2023 school year.
Still, two positions were cut this year, Rasinski said, one each from Jackson and Grant middle schools.
Supporting art and music programs is important because they help students with social-emotional learning, Rasinski said. She said those classes foster constructive criticism as well as getting students to work toward a common goal.
They’re also important for students receiving special education because in many cases, fine arts classes are the first time they’re able to join their peers on a more level playing field, she said.
Rasinski said she wants fine arts expanded even beyond all the district’s elementary schools, because students can’t always continue that learning as they grow. Fine arts programs for students beyond the sixth grade are currently funded based on decisions by school principals, she said.
“I’m really working on that consistency across the district,” she said.