On July 14, about 500 locals received an email message with a dramatic subject line: "West Theater Program in Jeopardy!" The message came from Friends of West High Drama, a booster organization for parents of students who've participated in the school's theater programs. It asked recipients to contact administrators and express concerns about proposed cuts to theater classes for the 2014-2015 school year. According to the message, administrators authorized "only three sections of Theater 1, one section of Theater 2 and one section of Theater 3" for the coming year, even though there are waiting lists.
In addition to providing theater classes, the West High drama program stages a musical and play each year, presents a multicultural program for younger students, and mounts a one-act play festival that involves up to 90 participants.
According to incoming West High Principal Beth Thompson, the school has received approximately 60 messages from concerned arts supporters. She notes that, contrary to the information being disseminated, the allocation of theater classes has not changed since the end of the 2013-14 school year, and that the number of classes being offered in 2014-15 is based entirely on student demand. Thompson says there was a reduction in theater classes offered after the 2012-2013 school year, when it was determined that some drama classes would no longer fulfill English requirements. Instead they would be counted as electives.
"In the end, the students have to make sure they are meeting their graduation requirements," she says.
Friends board member Dan Furlan says the parent group is "passionate" about student access to drama classes since it's seen the theater program achieve so much success.
"We want to tell the administration how important these programs are," he says.
Thompson, who served as assistant principal for the last 11 years, says that she has seen the positive effect of the arts at West High and that she continues to be a strong supporter of theater programming.
Furlan has some doubts about the strength of this support.
"We feel like there's been a lack of transparency in communication between the parents and the administration," he says, adding that the Friends plan to invite Thompson to an August meeting.
"We have such a great theater program at West High. We want to do whatever we can to make sure that continues, and that as many students can participate as possible," he says. "The interest is definitely there."