The Bowie marching band, which enrolls over 400 students, uses a facility built for about 120. – photo by Ingrid Morton
by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
AUSTIN – Bowie theater and music arts directors recently presented their case to AISD officials concerning the overused and rundown state of their arts facilities, and the need for renovations.
About 50 people attended a December community meeting at Bowie High School on fine arts facility recommendations within the Austin Independent School District (AISD).
Bowie High School—along with Bailey Middle School, Kealing Middle School, Murchison Middle School, Lamar Middle School and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders—was named as a first priority school for potential facility renovations.
Potential facility recommendations will be referred to the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee for possible inclusion in the next bond program.
Greg Goodman, director of fine arts for AISD, addressed attendees on the Kennedy Center audit of fine arts program in AISD schools, which examined equity among facilities, program demand and past bond relief.
Goodman said AISD has spent the past five years identifying shortcomings in the district’s fine art programs, hiring outside consultant Schuler Shook to inspect high school theaters and surveying fine arts facilities in 10 school districts around the state.
Goodman said he identified the district’s fine arts needs to total around $93 million but approached the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee requesting approximately $31 million.
“We based our priority on where student capacity far exceeds the facility capacity for student enrollment; where we have programs that are just so large that their space is unable to accommodate them,” Goodman said.
Needs were assessed by looking at student enrollment, student retention, student growth in programs, staffing allocation, budget allocation, equipment requests and No Child Left Behind transfers, Goodman said.
Betsy Cornwell, theatre director at Bowie High School, said the theatre department, which holds over 700 students, is plagued by both space and maintenance issues.
“Walls are no longer holding shelves, the plaster is falling off the walls because of water leakage and, as far as space, we’re having to beg to store the accumulation of 25 years of props and costumes almost any place we can find on campus,” Cornwell said. “We just don’t have enough space.”
Bowie High School orchestra director Giovanna Cruz said the school’s limited rehearsal space is a major obstacle for her students.
“It’s very difficult for them to rehearse and be able to hear each other because they don’t have dedicated spaces. They have to go into the hallway and then there’s several groups rehearsing at the same time in the same big open space so they can’t hear themselves over the sound of all the different groups mixed together,” Cruz said. “In years past I’ve had groups go into the bathrooms to practice because they don’t find spaces where they can actually hear themselves.”
Goodman said Bowie’s fine arts department is one of the most challenged in the district when it comes to capacity and rehearsal space.
“It’s the only school in the district that doesn’t have an onsite practice field. In addition to that, they don’t have proper storage for uniforms. They don’t have enough lockers for the instruments they have and they only have one rehearsal main hall,” Goodman said. “I think they have less than 10 practice rooms and in reality they should have—at minimum—a practice room for every 10 kids in their program.”
Goodman said in many ways, Bowie’s fine arts department is a victim of its own success. The programs are so popular among students the facilities can barely contain those enrolled, as evidenced by the Bowie marching band, which enrolls over 400 students in a facility built for about 120.
“The schools that have grown and are vibrant—and the school itself has large enrollment—are the schools that have the highest need,” Goodman said. “The more vibrant the program, the more challenging it is to keep up with the facility needs.”
Cornwell said she hopes to see added rehearsal and storage space as well as an added black box theater, which allows a greater variety in performances in different settings.
Additional performance space would help reduce the wear and tear on the current theater, Cornwell said.
“People have to beg and fit into our schedule just to use the space for their big presentations or events after all the fine arts disciplines have used it,” Cornwell said. “There are some months where there’s not a free day. That’s another part of the problem. If we could move some of those things into another space the theater wouldn’t get so much damage because of its use.”
Goodman said despite the challenges, the benefits fine arts programs hold for AISD schools are evident.
“The data shows that those kids enrolled in fine arts have a higher attendance percentage rate than those that are not, score academically higher on all state assessments, score higher on ACT and SAT tests and have a higher graduation rate and higher college attendance rate,” Goodman said. “We believe that in today’s world so much emphasis is placed on state testing assessment that one area we need to work on in our schools is teaching creativity and giving kids avenues and places to do that.”
Public hearings on fine arts facilities will be held on Jan. 22 at Crockett High School and Jan. 29 at Reagan High School.
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