The P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School program for the performing arts has recently taken some of its drama off-stage.

Kathy Byrne, an award-winning drama teacher with more than 30 years experience, had her contract abruptly terminated, causing controversy among the parents of her students. There was no official reason given, simply that the contract wasn’t renewed.

Her replacement will be Tiffany Dunn, a middle school English teacher at P. K. Yonge. Although an English degree is accepted by the state to teach drama, the decision has left many parents unhappy.

Susan Washington, who moved from Miami Beach when her 15-year-old daughter, Molly, was accepted into the performing arts program, has led the charge in confronting the administration about the issue.

"There seems to be a notion that the administration could hack away at the drama program and no one would notice," she said. "But I think we've gotten their attention now."

Concern first surfaced in June, when parents heard rumors that Byrne’s contract would not be renewed, said Washington.

Parents were even more concerned when their students returned from summer break to find their audition-only, advanced drama class had been dismantled and mixed into two, all-levels drama classes instead. In addition, the class was moved from the performing arts center to a “dingy” middle school classroom, said Washington.

P. K. Yonge principal, Catherine Atria, said the relocation of students is simply due to the creation of a "dedicated rehearsal space.”

But the real concern, said Washington, is if the students will be able to compete on a state level. Specifically, the transition from Byrne to Dunn violates several Florida State Thespian rules, she said.

In regard to the suggested dismantling of the drama program, there could be "nothing further from the truth," said Linda Hayes, director of P. K. Yonge. She said that the school has been working closely with regional directors of the competition to assure that the students can compete.

In a letter dated Oct. 29 and addressed to P. K. Yonge competitors and their families, some of these concerns were alleviated.

“A change in troupe sponsor will not impact eligibility for individual, duet, monologue, or One Act competitions at the Florida State Thespian Festival in March,” wrote Ted Lewis, District 2 Florida Thespians director.

As for the main stage production, “The Craving,” if Byrne accompanies the production as a volunteer director, the school would be eligible for state competition.

“It makes me anxious," said Washington, “So as parents, we've coalesced to make sure our children have every opportunity they deserve to achieve in that program.”

A version of this story ran on page 12 on 11/8/2013 under the headline "Parents left unhappy after P. K. Yonge terminates teacher"

(1) comment

Peter Oswald

What Dr. Atria so euphemistically calls a “dedicated rehearsal space,” most sane people would actually call a tiny classroom with all the chairs simply shoved to the side. My daughter is a drama student at P.K., and the new drama classroom is far removed, figuratively and quite literally, from the state-of-the art Performing Arts Center where it rightly belongs. “Dingy” does describe it well.

Citing “security issues,” Dr. Atria and Dr. Hayes moved the drama students out of the auditorium after two boys skipped out of class the first week of school. Later, after parents complained about how inappropriate the new room was, Dr. Atria changed her rationale and said the classes would not be moved back because the auditorium was an “inappropriate space” for a drama class. (Apparently there were no more security issues.)

As for the thespian competition, what is not mentioned is that the troupe will be banned from competing for two years unless the new drama teacher hired has attended two state competitions. This seems unlikely, as Dr. Hayes has set an AA degree as the minimum job requirement for the position—no teaching experience required—thereby ensuring that the least-qualified and least-expensive teacher will be hired.

While Dr. Hayes says there could be “nothing further from the truth” to the accusations about the drama program, the evidence simply piles on: Dr. Hayes fired without cause an award-winning teacher with 30 years experience who is certified to teach drama, replacing her with someone with little drama teaching experience who is not certified to teach drama. Dr. Hayes terminated the advanced drama class. Dr. Hayes banned the drama classes from the Performing Arts Center.

Dear Dr. Hayes and Dr. Atria, dissemble and obfuscate how you will, but the proof is plain: this is what is meant by “dismantling the drama program.”

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