In the name of saving money, some stupid mistakes have been made. And -- in my opinion, and this is strictly my opinion -- one of the dumbest moves in McCook was when the school administration and the board of education cut back the school's art program.
Talk about disrespecting our heritage! Didn't anyone look to see all the wonderful good that the McCook School's art program has done, not only for this community, but for the nation as a whole?
Because, you see, there's a lot more to life than how much money you make and how many games you win. The fine arts -- art, music and the humanities -- brighten our lives, giving us needed sustenance as we pursue life's journey.
The art program cutback in McCook came after Jim Steinke's retirement as the high school art teacher in 2003. Instead of building upon his legacy of 31 years of art teaching excellence, the school decision-makers used his departure as an excuse to consolidate.
They moved Steve Clapp, also an accomplished art teacher, from junior high to senior high. The only trouble is, they didn't replace Steve in the junior high, choosing to eliminate the crucial middle school art program. Before his retirement, Jim and Steve regularly taught 250 (or more) students in the two-semester school year.
Many people objected to the art program cutback-- most notably members of the McCook Art Guild -- but their objections fell on deaf ears as the school officials chose the easy way out, slashing life-enhancing art classes, rather than economizing on a system-wide basis. Equally as insensitive to the McCook area was the school's termination of the agriculture curriculum, which I will address in a future column.
But, for now, let's get back to art and the tremendous contribution the McCook area has made to artistic expression in this region and nation. To do so, let's name names. This is only a starting list of the hundreds from this area who have excelled in the art field, but hopefully it will be enough to show how silly we were to reduce -- rather than expand -- our emphasis on arts in the public schools.
In a few minutes of brain-storming with Steinke, these names of accomplished artists from McCook came to mind:
Gary Ginther, who was commissioned to create the 10-foot bison for Ted's Montana Grills; Jon Leitner, the featured artist at the 2005 Governor's Western & Wildlife Show at Nebraskaland Days; Michelle Weston of Berea, Ky., and Mark Haller, a traveling artist, both accomplished glass blowers; Paul Sutton, a versatile local artist; Becky Samway Meyers, a commercial artist who now teaches graphic arts at McCook Community College; Kenny Meyers, the 2001 national rugmakers' design award-winner; Rock Parsons, a hometown specialist in airbrush art and tattoos; Roxann Doyle Owens, an accomplished mural painter; her sister, Rita Doyle Roberts, also a talented all-around artist; Whitney and Ashley Fagot, who painted the wall designs and decor at McCook High and Central Elementary; Rick Johnson, the art instructor at McCook Community College; Cassandra Green Harrison, an art teacher and children's book illustrator; Kathy Grant Karazas, who formerly served as a commercial artist for Mutual of Omaha; Jennifer Steinke Robinson, an art teacher and practicing artist in Hartsville, S.C.; Keri Steinke, the K-12 art teacher and a practicing artist in Red Cloud; Steve Walker, the originator of the "Walker Stevens" sports sculptures; and Jim Steinke and Steve Clapp, both talented and versatile artists and designers as well as long-time teachers.
We know we have missed dozens of accomplished artists with McCook roots, but hopefully we have listed enough to show McCook's impressive art heritage.
Let's don't lose our solid art foundation. Let's build upon it.
Becky Meyers, herself a former art teacher in Bartley, wants McCook to do much more than simply restart the junior high art classes. "The pity is that the small schools in the area have much more comprehensive art programs than McCook does. Art should start in the early grades and be carried through elementary and secondary school."
Jim Steinke agrees. He now teaches at St. Patrick's School, which has a kindergarten through eighth grade art program. Pam Gull Schilz is the K-2 art instructor, while Steinke teaches art in grades three through eight.
Becky sums up the art teachers' feelings: "It's sad how limited the McCook schools' art program is. Even before the junior high cutback, all the McCook schools offered was six-week segments in middle school. That's way too late. Art should be a sequential learning experience. It should start in the primary grades."
A new board of education was recently seated in McCook. Those elected in November bring new blood and an interest in reviving agriculture classes. As they explore the best possible ways of educating the community's children, Jim, Becky and I urge them to give consideration to an expanded art program.
There's more to life than readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic. We also need to take time, not only to smell the flowers, but to paint them, too. The town not only needs -- it deserves -- an expanded public school art program. Let's start now. Let's join together to elevate and enhance art in the McCook Public Schools.