I am writing in response to the article in the June 15, 2010 issue of the Toledo Chronicle on the "STC Buildings Study: Toledo Middle School has "greatest need." While I do not dispute that the middle school is in need of expansion and upgrading, I take issue with the idea that building a new school on the land near the High School in Tama and leaving Toledo without a school is a deal-breaker. This was not a consideration when STC decided to close the schools in Montour and Chelsea. Leaving those communities without a school in an effort to provide students with modern, updated, and student-friendly facilities seemed to be the primary concern. Whether or not the Toledo side of the district has a school should be entirely irrelevant.
Beyond the placement or upgrading of the existing Middle School facility, I am more outraged about the idea that the High School should be reconfigured to place the Media Center in the Little Theater, and to do away with the theater facility entirely until such time as the community can solicit private donations for the building of one. How convenient that the district should wait until the two primary champions of the use of the theater facility, Mary Fasse-Shaw and Gary Zmolek, have retired to make this recommendation. Nor has the district posted a job in speech and theater to allow for these subjects to remain in the curriculum offerings or to provide a new champion for these subjects or the theater. Every year the students involved in speech and theater bring positive recognition to the district, and every year, athletic facilities are renovated or replaced while the theater and speech staff and students are told that a new theater is in the works. And so it is--as long as the STC Community School District does not have to pay for it.
Adding on an arts wing for art, family and consumer science, vocal music, and band is admirable; but leaving the theater out of the plan is an egregious error. Given that the Wieting Theatre is struggling to fundraise for its own survival, unless some wealthy, former student donates a substantial sum, I doubt that the school district can generate donors for a theater facility to ever be built.
It is also apparent that the district values athletics and athletic facilities, always seeming to find the money for stadium upgrades and track cameras. If the justification is that athletic events generate revenue, I would argue that theatrical events are capable of producing revenue as well. But if the stadium seats 5000 and the theater seats only 100, it's hard to produce comparable dollars in one venue compared to the other.
Before the Board makes a final decision about the plans for the expansion, renovation, or replacement of facilities, I urge the members to consider the students first. Though the need for increased academic progress and success is a primary goal, research shows that involvement in extracurricular activities is essential to student engagement and success. Not all students are athletes or musicians, and those students who benefit from speech and theater activities deserve opportunities beyond performing their play in the gym in between sporting events, or hoping they can find a community facility to host their performances. And frankly, I would much rather attend a graduation or awards ceremony or musical performance or play in a properly constructed and temperature-controlled theater than in the gymnasium.
I realize that no final decisions have been made. However, the district ought to consider that if "student educational needs were the basis for any considerations" then the value of speech and theater lies in the nature of these highly academic and intellectual pursuits. Students involved in speech and theater activities learn valuable 21st Century Skills that will further their social, career, and educational opportunities in the future. Civic literacy and employability skills, as well as the ties to the literacy and social studies curriculum ought to make preserving the speech and theater program and the facilities necessary to foster the program a priority for the South Tama County Community School District.