Alumni speak out after Highland Park ISD cuts Theatre, Speech & Debate programs

VIDEO: Alumni speak out after Highland Park ISD cuts Theatre, Speech & Debate programs
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 6:41 PM CST
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Highland Park ISD made a decision to end some UIL programs this week including academic, speech & debate, and theatre.

Highland Park ISD’s superintendent has issued the follow statement on its website:

As the designated spokesperson and superintendent for the Highland Park Independent School District, I am issuing the following statement:

Over the last few years, the District has seen a significant decrease in the number of students enrolled in the District. The reduced number of students has significantly impacted certain school programs more than others and has reduced the District’s budget for maintenance and operations. Further, student preferences and participation in District-offered programs has shifted over time. Therefore, the administration and Board have been evaluating District programs in comparison to staff and employment areas so that we can more accurately align personnel with District needs. This realignment will require elimination of certain programs, reassignment of some staff to different positions, and a reduction in expenditures commensurate with anticipated enrollment.

This process involves several difficult decisions but as responsible stewards of the District’s finite resources, the administration and Board are analyzing which programs may need to be reduced or eliminated due to decreased student participation. Unfortunately, this will mean that some employment positions, including administration, faculty and staff, will need to be consolidated or even eliminated. The District will attempt to find new assignments for employees affected by these actions as position become available through normal attrition. The District must take the initial steps, however, to implement a reduction in force for some certified contract positions. Should a reduction in force be needed, it is the District policy to consider all qualified employees for other assignments as those positions become available.

The HPISD Board and I sincerely appreciate the dedicated service from all District employees. In full transparency and an effort to minimize the negative impact of the District’s declining enrollment, the administration has contacted the employees most likely to be affected. No final decision has been made on whether to implement a reduction in force or which employment areas will be affected if one is undertaken. For this reason, and out of respect for the employees who may be affected, the District will not provide further comments on this on-going personnel matter.

Again, thank you for your continued support of Highland Park ISD

Jimmy Hannon, Superintendent of Highland Park ISD

According to some Facebook posts a teacher of nearly 17 years could potentially lose her job do to the programs ending.

“She for this department, that I believe it’s been 17 years, that she has poured her heart and soul into for them to look at a community and say, ‘I think we’re just going to be done,’ there’s no reasoning here,” said Jessica Sugg, Highland Park speech and debate alum,” Jessica Sugg, Highland Park speech and debate, band, and athletic alum.

The theatre director, and an alum added this statement:

As Highland Park’s Theatre department is preparing for their One Act Play competition tomorrow, we will have no further comment to the media at this time. This may be their last time to compete and they want the space to focus and make it count. The outpouring of support has meant so much to those involved and we hope that it maintains until the next school board meeting on March 8th.

Alumni I spoke with expressed their concerns for current, past and future students who will be impacted.

“Going into middle school and middle school is such a hard time, and my son is not your athletic type he’s trying to go out there and be sporty but he is an artsy child, and the passion hand for theater he told me about he’s like I want to do that, and his dad and I are huge into theater. My husband has performed for me a little theatre. My son has been seeing all those things and he’s super interested in it, and for it to be cut before he even has a chance to dip his foot into it. Breaks my heart,” said Cassie Massengill, current parent of a Highland Park student, and Speech & Debate, and Theatre alum.

One parent and former theatre and speech & debate alum, spoke on the need for these programs for kids like her own.

“Highland Park is such a small school already and they don’t have a ton of things for these kids. Taking that away from them, what else is there for them to do? I don’t think that’s fair to the kids who are like my son who are artsy and need a creative place to express themselves for it to be gone and to just be taken from them that it’s not fair,” Massengill.

She adds the importance for these programs for students to learn more about themselves.

“When everything feels like work, work, work, the arts, whether it be our theater band or whatever, those give you that your mind that creative space to to be yourself or to figure out who you are,” said Massengill.

Some alumni say these programs helped them grow, learn and develop skills they needed after high school.

“When you listen to music when you go to a play, when you watch a movie, when you go watch a Broadway musical, you’re taking those opportunities away from kids right now to pursue those things and that’s where I feel like we’re separating the two and we’re making it okay now to separate the two,” said Sugg. “The amount of dedication and time that goes into that I feel like is the work ethic that you need to pursue when you go into college.”

Sugg also adds her concerns for other art programs that could be at risk in the future.

“Right now, in question, we’re looking at the theater department, debate and speech but we’re also looking at if this is happening now, what’s going to happen to band? What’s going to happen to art classes? I mean, is art class is even going to be a thing anymore? That’s where I feel like we’re drawing the line and we’re making it easier moving forward to cut a program off because we’ve already started here,” said Sugg. “You’re learning an organized competition it’s not just I go to school, and you know, I get there at eight, you know, 8:05 and I go home at three o’clock and, you know, I’ll get my degree at the end of four years. It’s something where you spend extra time after school you spend extra time during classes, you spend your weekends at these events. As an athlete who was also in the arts program, there should be no divide.”

One alum created a petition, to sign click here.

There is also a board meeting scheduled for March 8th, where many alumni are hoping to make their voices heard.

“I urge everybody else to attend and make our voices heard and and fight for these kids to have the same opportunities that we did and not lose that art,” said Massengill. “Let’s do a fundraiser, let’s figure out how we can get those funds to keep programs that are so vital like this in place. There’s so many programs out there who are supporting the athletics and the other programs. Let’s do the same for theater and the arts.”