(Ed note: This article appeared in Saturday's Post-Bulletin, but it was split into two due to space. Here it is as one article. Links to the print versions are provided at the end. -EM)
When Keven Newton began teaching industrial technology to middle schoolers 24 years ago, there was a metal shop, drafting lab, electronic area and wood shop. The metal shop was eliminated years ago, the drafting lab soon followed suit and next fall, the rest of the industrial technology department vanishes, too.
Rochester public schools has announced that all industrial technology and family and consumer sciences classes will be removed from the middle school curriculum next year. The move has been caused by the most recent round of budget cuts.
In February, the school board cut $4.5 million, a year after slashing more than $9 million. The latest round of cutbacks included a 3.5 percent reduction in middle school staff, which translates to at least five middle school teachers. At least six high school teachers will lose their jobs, too.
District officials maintain that the decision doesn't mean those classes aren't important, but that it simply comes down to a numbers game. "It's not that these courses aren't important for kids," said Ann Clark, Rochester's executive director of curriculum and instruction. "A lot of tough decisions had to be made."
Currently, students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade take exploratory classes, also known as electives. Those classes include art, family and consumer sciences (FACS), health and Spanish. But next year, that changes.
Sixth-graders will not have exploratory classes. Seventh-graders will have one semester of communication skills/computer literacy and one of art. Eighth-graders will have one semester of Spanish and one semester of health.
While there has been a stepped up focus on science and math courses, other departments have been hit hard as education experts call for courses labeled as college preparatory. But many students, Newton said, can become well-compensated electricians, mechanics or metal workers, among other trades. These classes can first ignite hands-on interest.