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Don't Cut the Drama Teacher

by Andrew Mades
4/26/2013

The real problem with the performing arts at Holliston High School

 If you like having a professional quality drama program in Holliston then Brian Hickey's position cannot be cut. Dr. Jackson said Thursday night that under the proposed budget cuts the extracurricular aspects of the program wouldn’t be affected. This is absolutely false. These programs are successful solely because Mr. Hickey has the ability to make actors, lighting operators, sound crews, stage crews, builders, and administrators out of regular students. These various positions teach engineering, teamwork, scheduling, basic carpentry skills, what it means to make a commitment and many other skills that apply in drama as well as many other workplaces.

This is true in my case. I took Drama 1 my freshman year and joined tech crew for Zombie Prom the following year. After that I proceeded to work in every aspect of the drama program for the next four years and came back this year when he hired me to give a large hand in building the set for Beauty and the Beast. You may remember, it was a huge rolling castle that was one of the most ambitious constructs ever attempted at any of the theater programs of Holliston and was hugely successful. I am currently working for an image manufacturing company and I have applied many of the engineering skills to the work I am doing now that I learned throughout the shows.

Each musical has over fifty plus students that work on stage or backstage every year. The success of Globefest advertises to the entire community how wonderful Holliston’s school system is. The spring play has over thirty students working on and off stage. All three of these shows fill the seats every year. This is one of the only programs that show members of the town without students how important it is to fund the programs of the school system.

I am going to recap what I told the school committee Thursday night now. Dr. Jackson used proposed class sizes, what students have signed up for, to justify cutting Mr. Hickey's position from full time to half time. He spoke of how students “vote with their feet” and how something like 48 students have signed up for the psychology class and 50 have signed up for business classes and the number of sign-ups for the drama classes is markedly lower. This seems to indicate that the students don’t care about drama and want to learn about psychology, business, and other similar classes in math, science, and the humanities. What this actually indicates however is which classes are “movie time with such and such” how the business classes, as they have been described by students, are “ten minutes of a computer program and then you do homework for your other classes or leave”.

A class described this way is generally referred to as a “joke” by the students who take this class because it is a “joke” and it has the title of business or psychology instead of Drama 1 or Stagecraft and design. It is felt by the students that if they are going to take an elective it is best to take one that sounds good on a college resume whether or not they care about the subject or if they actually learn anything. The drama department and indeed the entire performing arts department have a tendency for low numbers because of this. Not only does Drama 1 not look good on college resumes according to what students are constantly told but Mr. Hickey expects his students to try and learn. He doesn’t expect professional quality performances but he wants the students to try. This is the same reason the previous band director Mr. Lordan left. Mr. Britton should be safe because he teaches “music in movies” which is one of the only classes where it is appropriate to be movie time but this class explores how music is used to underpin movies.

The solution to this problem would be for the administration to make sure that the electives I have mentioned and similar classes are actually challenging the students and that the students understand that colleges are actually looking for more than just what looks sexy on the resume. If that happens I assure you that class numbers will rebound in the drama department and the other electives numbers will fall to more reasonable levels. In most of the electives probably a third to half of the students are actually very interested in learning about the subject.

Comments (16)

I am actually not running for finance committee. I thought about it and figured that I shouldn't run because I do not have the experience to be on such an important board. and No I have not taken a business class and I have already explained why. Actually since writing this article several current and former students have come up to me saying effectively "I saw your article; you are absolutely right about those classes. I didn't learn anything". Now again; these are generally students who have good standing, work hard in school, and actually enjoy going to class. Because of this I stand by what I have said. Now on the offchance that someone on the school committee or administration sees this I will gladly put them into contact with a member of the FSU administration to discuss the survey I wrote of in an earlier comment.

Andrew Mades | 2013-05-11 20:36:56

Hey check out this sweet cat video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J---aiyznGQ

Chris P. Nugit | 2013-05-02 12:43:43

People don't sign up for drama classes because they don't look "sexy" on their transcript but instead don't sign up because these classes have no learning aspects that will afect us in our lives moving forward. I learned absolutly nothing in stage craft and design and drama 1 because all we did was listen to Mr. Hickey rant and rave about how bad kids are today.

HHS Student | 2013-05-02 10:44:24

You insult the business program and those who teach it and yet you've never taken a business course? How can you make such claims in the first place, especially when those you are insulting aren't present to defend themselves? I along with many others think you are making an already difficult decision more difficult and further damaging Mr.Hickeys cause by slandering other departments that we are fortunate to have in the first place.

A concerned citizen | 2013-05-01 17:51:25

I see you're running for Finance Committee. From what you just wrote, do you think you are mature enough to handle that job? Shouldn't people in a position of political power should remain objective when considering financial issues?

Sam Well | 2013-05-01 15:33:33

Tom, In this article I never said that the business program should be cut instead of the drama program. I am saying that numbers are artificially high in some electives while others are lower than they should be. I have used the business program as an example because of the anecdotal evidence of what the classes are like. What I would like to see is more of an approach as I wrote in the other comment I left. You bring up a D- in the drama class you took. could you tell me why?

Andrew Mades | 2013-05-01 12:17:32

Mr. Gleason, I do think you are right in that I should not have gone after the business program in the fashion I did. However Brian, I have taken a variety of electives in my time at HHS including history, drama, music, science, english, and wellness. There is a reason I have never taken a business class even though I think that an understanding of business is useful for many aspects of life. I have been told by hard working,upstanding, involved, and bright peers of mine, that did take business classes mind you,that these classes are as I described them and I didn't want to waste my class time. I am also not saying that teachers should be cut because of anecdotal evidence that I have been told informally. At Framingham State there is a survey that students take at the end of their class that evaluates the teachers in a number of aspects. It is a fairly simple document that has a series of questions on how the class was and how the teacher is at teaching. A system like this could be used to evaluate teachers and also let them be in the classroom to teach as they see fit due to the way the survey is designed. I was hoping to call attention to the way students feel about certain electives. I stand by what I said but also say that I do not wish any position need be cut. but if a cut is to be made it should not be to the only teacher in that subject.

Andrew Mades | 2013-05-01 07:52:42

I respect your opinion that the drama program should not be cut but stating that the business program should be cut instead in an absolute blasphemy. I am a current student of Mr. Gleason and Mr. Healy and intend to continue my studies of business at UNH next year. Without these two teachers or classes I would never have been enlightened and taught the beggining tools of business. I like many other students took business courses because we were interested not "dumped." I was however dumped into drama last year where Mr. Hickey kindly gave me a D-.

Tom Chipman | 2013-05-01 05:45:40

I am happy that you feel so passionate about the drama program and that it provides an option for your personal interests. But if you think that other elective classes at HHS are given any advantage over drama classes, I think you are mistaken. Have you taken any courses in other electives? My guess is no, because you have limited electives to take and you have found your passion in drama. I know for a fact that the business courses are not any kind of "dumping" ground for students and that there is plenty of documented curriculum that is covered in those courses. Cuts are difficult and I wish none had to be made. But please put your emotion aside and get your facts straight before you start disparaging the other elective subjects at the school. Personally, I feel the drama program is excellent and I would love to see it continue. Just don't pit it against other productive and useful programs. These are difficult choices.

Brian | 2013-04-30 08:02:49

Mr Mades, As one of the business teachers here at Holliston High School I write in support of Mr. Hickey and agree with you that we shouldn't cut drama. At the same time I question your methods and credibility. To my knowledge you never took a business class during your years here at HHS. If you had you would have learned that my curriculum is robust and challenging, just ask any student who has taken Accounting or Entrepreneurship, that I never show movies, and that Business is the most popular college major in America. 1 out of every 5 college students is a Business major. According to the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences, of the 1,563,000 bachelor's degrees earned in 2007-08, the greatest numbers of degrees (335,000) were granted in the fields of business. The future U.S. workforce is hereā€¦So say employers in a unique study by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, which looks at the readiness of new entrants to the workforce. Knowing how employers view these new entrants is an important first step in enabling both these new entrants and U.S. business to succeed on the global economic playing field. The four participating organizations jointly surveyed over 400 employers across the United States. These employers articulate the skill sets that new entrants-recently hired graduates from high school, two-year colleges or technical schools, and four-year colleges-need to succeed in the workplace. Among the most important skills cited by employers: Professionalism/Work Ethic, Oral and Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Critical Thinking/Problem Solving. Pitting one program or subject against another is not only unfair, it is unrealistic and immature. Each program should succeed based on its own value and merit and not at the expense or sacrifice of another. This is not a competition. We are all in this together and I'm sure Mr. Hickey wouldn't approve of your disparagement of his fellow colleagues who band together in support of him. Shame on you Mr. Mades.

Mr. Paul Gleason, MBA | 2013-04-30 08:01:50

John, I am not saying that we should force students to take the drama electives. I am saying that they do not take the drama electives or the music electives because there are other classes which sound better but the student can just "phone it in" because it is so easy. Now, on forcing students to take a class. This happens all the time with the electives because of the block scheduling system. Students often have to take a class they didn't want to because of how their schedule works out. This is part of the reason drama class are low because the students who do want to take them often are unable to because of their schedule. There is a term that the teachers use: "dumping" in which students are dumped into an elective because it is there. This used to be the purview of the arts programs but now that psychology and business type classes are offered year round the performing arts do not get those students. In my science elective and in my history electives last year about a third of the students at least were dumped there or looking for an easy A.

Andrew Mades | 2013-04-28 19:16:47

As a current member of the FinCom, I think it is very important to correct and clarify a few things that Just Another Observer stated. I do want to agree with and reiterate their message that everyone should read the Warrant and Finance Committee Annual Report and attend Town Meeting on May 6th. However, I need to clarify their statement regarding article #21. It is true that the town may vote yes or no to this article. However, the town would separately, in article #15, also need to vote to increase the school budget by the $100,000 in order for the Schools to get that money. While I do not have a position on the Drama teacher specifically, I do want to point out that the School Committee, not the FinCom, has proposed (though currently tabled) that position be cut to half time as part of the first $256k of budget cuts necessary to meet their budget with an additional ~$220k of cuts necessary to meet the FinCom's recommended budget. Increasing the schools budget by $100k will not necessarily result in the restoration of a full time drama teacher. Furthermore, Town Meeting cannot mandate the schools to spend the money in any specific way. That is up to the School Committee. Regarding Article #24, the $250k for the Town to purchase land: That money is coming from the Open Space funds and may NOT be used for other budgets by statute. Voting against this article will not have any impact on the school's or any other budget. In regards to Article #21 in relation to the casino, the $100k is for conducting impact analysis regarding the proposed Milford casino and to pay for legal fees. Holliston has joined up with three other local communities (Ashland, Medway and Hopkinton) and each community is seeking approval from their towns for $100k. The total fund could be as large as $400k. Just as we are counting on our neighboring towns, they are counting on us. We are working together for a common goal: to preserve our towns and the "small town" feel we love about our town. My personal belief is that the threat to our community and all we love about our town from this proposed casino is so great that this money, while not small, is well worth having available to protect the town's interests as best as possible. Finally, I want to encourage everyone with questions or comments about the Finance Committee's recommended FY2014 budget to come to our office hours tomorrow evening at 6:30PM at Pajamajo's. Members of the FinCom, myself included, will be there to help you understand the issues and listen to your concerns.

Daniel Alfred | 2013-04-28 17:11:27

Holliston High School students can make a difference. If you are 18 years old, please go to town hall and register to vote...before the Holliston Town Meeting, which is on Monday May 6th @ HHS at 7:30 p.m. Next thing to do is to read this: http://www.townofholliston.us/Selectmen/Finance%20Committee%20Annual%20Report%202013.pdf This document describes what will be voted on at town meeting. Some highlights: Article #15 the Omnibus Budget, in other words, how your tax dollars will be spent. Article #21 Vote yes or no to Holliston spending $100,000 to fight the Milford casino (money could be better spent keeping Mr Hickey in town) Article #24 Should Holliston spend $250,000 to buy a chunk of land off Meadowbrook lane (or should they spend that money to keep Mr Hickey?) Article #25 Should Holliston "convey" 981 sq. ft. of land it owns, for no money, to somebody? (they don't say to whom) You are adults now. It's your responsibility to pat attention to town government, and best of all PARTICIPATE. If you are not yet 18, urge your parents to attend.

Just Another Observer | 2013-04-28 14:26:52

It is unfair that the administration misrepresents the facts to make its case: the reason no one has enrolled in Improvisation is because it is not being offered i.e. enrollment was NOT even possible.

Stop Twisting Things | 2013-04-28 11:26:27

So that's your answer, force kids to take drama electives, even though that's not their first choice? I'll be the first parent to call if my kid is placed in a drama elective that he didn't want because we're justifying a faculty position. Numbers don't lie. A drama elective "doubling" in size from 4 to 8 is really not impressive. I wish we lived In a world where tough financial decisions weren't necessary and we could have a enough teachers for every interest our kids show, but sadly that's not the case.

John | 2013-04-28 08:13:17

HHS Drama Facts Since starting at HHS ten years ago, Mr Hickey has increased annual student participation in public performances by over 100%, and ticket sales by an astounding 10,600%! This massive growth in ticket demand is a clear indicator that, through his skilled teaching and directorship, he also drastically improved performance quality. Yet how much do these performances now draw from the school budget? Absolutely nothing! Through Mr Hickey's expert guidance, and with the supply of well-trained students, the performances are self-sustaining. This will NOT be the case if the drama credit courses are cut. Whereas there used to be more people on stage than in the audience prior to Mr Hickey's start, HHS now boasts sold out shows, annual ticket sales in excess of 2600, and about 100 to 125 students involved in productions annually. Because of Mr. Hickey, we now have a program inclusive to ALL OF THE STUDENT BODY, and built for the community ... and, as far as I am aware, this happens to be precisely what he was employed to do. To continue with these objectives, the drama credit course portfolio must be maintained. Put another way, to cut the program is to aspire to reverse the progress Mr. Hickey has made. As far as class sizes, I understand they are low every April. By August they are up and by September they sometimes double in size. As it has been pointed out in the Holliston Reporter comments, "Drama is an elective. Students are not guaranteed placement within their desired elective. The final placement is at the discretion of HS staff. Part of that decision involves ensuring that class sizes are neither too small nor too large. If the HS staff wishes to do so, they are able to disperse students amongst all the electives so that all meet minimum class sizes."

Margaret | 2013-04-28 05:51:51