Empty classrooms: Ooltewah Elementary School has an art classroom but no teacher

Empty classrooms: Ooltewah Elementary School has an art classroom but no teacher

March 22nd, 2014 by Mary Helen Montgomery in Local Regional News

Principal Tom Arnold, left, talks to state and local officials about their leveled reading room during a tour Friday of Ooltewah Elementary School. The school does not have funding for an art or science teacher, and school officials invited area lawmakers to tour the school in hopes of changing that.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do schools need more technology or art?

Ooltewah Elementary School's art classroom is far too tidy for a kids' studio. The floors are spotless, the chairs are empty and the tables beg for more grime.

When the school district built the $21 million facility, it optimistically included an art classroom and science lab, even though there was no funding to hire an art or science teacher. Now, those two rooms are empty in a stunning new school that's bustling with about 850 students. The school opened in August 2013.

"This is our science lab," said Principal Tom Arnold as he took a group of public officials, and people running for office this year, on a tour of the school Friday. "But you can probably tell it's not being used as a science lab."

Instead, it's being used to store boxes, still unpacked from the move to the new school. The art classroom is used lightly in an after-school art program that students must pay to attend.

In Hamilton County, elementary schools do not receive the funds to hire art or science teachers. This year, 12 of 43 elementary schools have art teachers whom they have hired. District officials estimated last year that it would cost $2 million to $3 million to hire art teachers for the schools that don't have them. The schools that do have those teachers must raise the money themselves, through grants or donations.

Ideally, there would be a full-time art teacher and a full-time science teacher at Ooltewah Elementary, Arnold said. So, the PTA is taking charge, trying to raise money and appealing to lawmakers to help to bring a science and art teacher into the school. The PTA says it can raise enough money for art and science lab supplies if others can put teachers in those classrooms.

Miranda Perez is the president of the PTA. She said that last year the group raised $20,000 during a walk-a-thon, and its members hope to raise $25,000 this year during the event, all to contribute to the art and science program at Ooltewah.

Perez said going to art class would be a great stress-relief for the kids.

"The kids have to be seated so long," Perez said. "They just need an outlet."

Perez said the type of fundraising work that the PTA is doing falls outside the scope of what a PTA should do. So, she is planning to start a separate group, the Ooltewah Education Fund, that will raise money for all of the public elementary schools in the Ooltewah area, much as the Mountain Education Foundation does on Signal Mountain.

The lack of art teachers was a point of contention Thursday evening at the Hamilton County Board of Education meeting. One board member even voted against passing the 2015 budget because it didn't include additional funding for arts. Academic research shows a link between arts education and overall student achievement.

"The data is clear on what arts do for our students," said Superintendent Rick Smith at the meeting.

Hannah Pariano, 10, would love to be able to go to an art or science class. The fourth-grader moved here from Pittsburgh, and she misses the art class that she had at her old school.

"I think we all need help in arts and sciences," she said.

Contact staff writer Mary Helen Miller at mhmiller@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.