“Upper Darby High School maintains a collection of impressively large trophies, showcasing decades of excellence. This spring, to no one’s surprise, several more were added, top prizes at a national competition.
All this is not a boasting of athletic achievement; Upper Darby High’s trophies are found in the chorus room and represent its outstanding success in music.
Down the hall is the 1,650-seat Performing Arts Center, home to Summer Stage, a theater partnership with the township whose founder, Harry Dietzler, won a prestigious Barrymore Award last fall. Among his proteges: Tina Fey, of 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live.
In many districts, music and art are regarded as largely the domain of middle- and upper-class children, often taught by private instructors. Not so in blue-collar Upper Darby, which prides itself on the scope of its offerings, its dedicated public school teachers, and an inclusive ethos. Even in recent years, with more low-income students, more ethnic diversity, and a shrinking local tax base, Upper Darby has offered arts and theater programs that surpass those in many more prosperous districts.
In a move akin to a district with championship athletic teams cutting sports, Upper Darby administrators this spring announced a plan to eliminate all elementary school music and art classes. That and other proposed cuts would save about $ 3 million, district officials say.
The district began its budget planning this year with a $ 13 million deficit, Superintendent Louis DeVlieger said in an interview, and ‘I don’t know who is going to come riding over the hill to save us.’
Administrators maintain that the middle and high school arts programs remain untouched, so the tradition of excellence will continue.
But many view the elementary school teachers as an indispensable link in the arts’ chain of success. For example, music instructors teach third graders the recorder, helping them learn musical notation that becomes the foundation for later choral and instrumental participation.”