VOICES: School layoffs irresponsible and senseless act that cheats Stivers students, artist says

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: The Dayton Public Schools board approved 241 layoffs and furloughs on Aug. 28. A guest column by school board President Mohamed Al Hamdani and Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli in which they explained the decision was printed last week as were columns from David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association, and Stivers School for the Arts student Dottie Buerger and her mother, Sharon. Artist David S. Harewood attended Stivers his seventh and eighth grade years.

The Dayton School Board made a grievous mistake in cutting funding to most physical education and arts programming.

Many young artists are fundamentally dysfunctional if unable to practice their art. Robbing them of that opportunity—especially for seniors, many of whose college admittance depends on successful auditioning—is not just about whether Janelle is able to play a sweet version of “All of the Lights” in her senior recital. It’s about whether she aces or bombs the Berklee audition coming in the winter that she’s dreamed about since she learned to play her first arpeggio. If this cut stands, the students the school board has cheated with their initial vote will all remember.

I know this because the core of my life’s work is based in the creation of art and a direct involvement with social justice causes. That vote was unjust.

If this cut stands, the students the school board has cheated with their initial vote will all remember.

- David Harewood

The journey that led me to this dual path started at Stivers School for the Arts from 1993 to 1995. I was a theatre/orchestra magnet student in seventh grade and a show choir/orchestra magnet student in eighth. The only reason I didn’t attend high school at Stivers was that I was in the class of 1999, and the school’s first graduating class in the new era was 2000. To this day, I’ve never met a writing teacher more inspiring or giving than Eva Makstutis. She built one of the few programs the school board’s irresponsible and senseless vote spared.

Shelly Sinclair taught us the following in our very first theatre class in 1992: professionals write it down, amateurs remember. In 2019, I either built, produced, directed, or acted in 44 productions.

One of those productions featured Rico Parker, an 2002 Colonel White graduate and member of Actors' Equity Association. The production was one of the most successful of the Columbus theater season, according to both its critical and community response.

I ask every stage manager who works with me to keep extra pens and tablet chargers in case the actors need help with their notes.

Michael Mangan conducted the orchestra where I played third cello at Stivers. His first lesson to us: I recently agreed to be the spokesperson for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in a series of online videos to be aired weekly in the Columbus City elementary schools.

I could have achieved none of these things had I not received such a solid grounding at Stivers. My contemporaries and I received said grounding not just from the teachers listed above, but hundreds of others who’ve touched thousands of other students' lives, all through artistic education. We are intelligent, we are driven, we are expressive, and ultimately all most of us want to do is make a better world doing what we love to do.

Cutting those programs insults all of us. All the board has to do to correct the insult is reverse the decision and give Janelle the chance to bounce song and arrangement ideas off the teacher who inspired her to apply to Berklee in the first place.

Even if it’s via Zoom.

David Harewood is a freelance stagehand, director, and political/community organizer. He was born in Dayton, but now resides in Columbus.

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