P.K. drama parents, school director meet over concerns

Former P.K. Yonge theater teacher Kathy Byrne, center, shown in this Feb. 24, 2012 file photo with students Chris Shepherd, left, and Gregorio Suarez, did not have her contract renewed this year.

Submitted photo
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 9:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 9:19 p.m.

A meeting between parents of P.K. Yonge drama students and the school's director Wednesday night ended with the school's administration promising to address concerns over the drama program in the next two weeks.

About a dozen parents met with P.K. Yonge director Lynda Hayes to voice their frustration with recent changes, including moving the drama classes from the performing arts center to a classroom in a separate building and the administration's decision to end a highly qualified drama teacher's contract in January.

The drama classes were also flattened over the summer. Students who auditioned for advanced drama in the spring and beginning students are now in the same classes, which are split up between the current drama teacher, Kathy Byrne, and English teacher Tiffany Dunn.

Dunn took over teaching some drama classes this year, much to the chagrin of several parents who contend that Byrne's contract was terminated because of a personality clash between her and administrators.

"Changes can be awkward and uncomfortable," Hayes told parents. But, "In my mind, there is never a threat to performing arts at P.K. Yonge."

Although she said she could not discuss the reason why the school ended its contract with Byrne, who has extensive experience in both teaching and performing, Hayes said the school would perform a nationwide search for another, equally qualified drama teacher.

Hayes went on to explain that the drama classes were moved out of the performing arts center so teachers could better supervise students.

Now that beginning and advanced drama students are in the same class outside the performing arts center, that leaves no teacher supervision at the center. Without supervision, advanced students aren't being allowed to rehearse on the stage in the performing arts center.

Without that rehearsal time, parents worry that their students won't be able to rehearse for thespian competitions in the spring, which have long been a point of pride for P.K. Yonge.

"The medium is the message," parent Susan Washington said. "The kids need to be on stage."

Another parent, who asked not to be named, said that if Hayes and the school's principal, Cathy Atria, truly took the drama program seriously, they wouldn't have moved the drama classes out of the performing arts center and they would've started a national search for Byrne's replacement months ago.

Hayes insisted the school is committed to the performing arts and said she would consider parents' suggestions.

Parents' top priorities were getting at least the advanced drama students back into the performing arts center and giving them opportunities to rehearse for thespian competitions, looking for ways that Byrne could coach the competitive thespian group or co-teach with Dunn after her contract expires in January and ensuring the school has a robust search for another highly qualified drama teacher.

Hayes said she would have some answers for parents and students within two weeks.

"You have to give me a little bit of time to get all the pieces together," she said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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