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Posted on Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 7:19 a.m.

In her mother's defense: Saline students will lose out with transfer of art teacher to regular classroom

By Guest Column

Georgia O'Keefe famously said she could say things with color and shapes that she could not say any other way -- things for which she had no words. For almost 15 years, Saline Area School District art teacher Cindy Larsen has guided students to tell their stories in similar ways.

Now, the school district is involuntarily transferring her out of the art room and into a fifth-grade classroom, with zero warning or explanation. Fortunately, I do not need colors and shapes to tell my story; I have plenty of words to express the overwhelming loss the district will suffer if it does not have Cindy Larsen teaching art.


Kelsey Larsen

Larsen’s artistic mark on Saline Area Schools is more than a dot or a line; it is a Jackson Pollock-esque masterpiece that is broad and sweeping in its reach, full of intention and technique.

After fulfilling her student-teaching requirements in art at Saline High School in 1981 and later teaching student art classes at Taylor and Charlene Jacobson's farm for years, Larsen was hired by Saline Area Schools in 1997. She taught art at Houghton Elementary School, and in 2001 transitioned to begin as the art teacher at the brand new Harvest Elementary School. She has thus been committed to only two art rooms in her life, both full of young elementary students from kindergarten to fourth-grade. In those rooms she has helped transform first-time paint users into veteran plaster-carvers over the multiple years they get to have her as an instructor.

In an introductory letter sent out to parents this year, Larsen explained that her mission was to help students respect artistic materials, apply art to classroom learning, and ultimately, to showcase their finished works. Thus, Cindy Larsen has spent almost 15 years making sure that when a student is best able to express themselves through the cross-hatching of a set of lines or the textured weaving of strings of yarn, that a light is shone on that expression.

That commitment is what ensured that Larsen's students have consistently earned Top 100 in the State or Top 15 in the State honors from the Michigan Art Education Association -- this year, of course, being no different. This attempted reassignment is not performance based; she is an exceptional teacher based on performance metrics, as echoed in her students' achievements and her superiors' praise.

But Saline has always focused on awards second and community first. Larsen's commitment to art education brought more than just accolades for her enormously talented students -- it also led her to give back to the Saline community. She initiated a student-created American flag for the 10th anniversary of September 11th that was to be hung outside the Saline Fire Department. She built a standing relationship with Pittsfield Township to display student art, and used her students' art to decorate the city of Saline Christmas tree.

Larsen painted the epic mural across the back of the Union School stage, setting the scene for more Three Piggy Operas than can be counted. With her daughters, she painted murals on school rock climbing walls and in school offices. Larsen has been the grade level chair for the Elementary Art Department, and served as a mentor to other art teachers in the district. She helped coordinate events like the Saline Area Schools Empty Bowl Event and Auction and ensured students experienced the Bixby Marionette Exhibit. Larsen has encouraged and promoted art in every aspect of the Saline community, independent of what Saline Schools would ever ask her to do.

Yet even if we can excuse the administration for overlooking the experience and commitment of the involuntarily reassigned teachers, when it comes to who is teaching our children and who is not, the fundamental value of Cindy Larsen is the personal devotion and inspiration that defines her as a person -- and that cannot be overlooked.

She has been a volunteer on the First Response Team at Harvest Elementary, ready to guide, assist, and protect students in case of the unimaginable. She has been involved with the Saline Booster Club, and her and her husband Gary's faces can be clearly seen in the grandstands of any Saline sporting event. She has headed the Social Committee at Harvest Elementary School, helping cultivate a sense of community among her colleagues. She has been there for administrators when they have received criticism, just as she has been there when fellow teachers are ruefully delivered pink slips. She is a high yield communicator when it comes to explaining the role of Saline Area Schools to the community, as her presence at any number of Board of Education meetings reflects.

While we certainly would never demand that the instructors of our talented Saline students live, raise their children in, participate in, and love the community of Saline, the reality is that Cindy Larsen has actively done all of those things for almost 30 years. She continues to be an exemplary professional, community member, and friend, and this district owed, and owes, her more than an unceremonious forced reassignment.

As administrators, it is Scot Graden and the district's responsibility to protect the Saline educational experience. As a union, it is Tim Heim and the Saline Education Association's responsibility to protect teachers. As teachers, it is over 200 staff members' responsibility to protect their classrooms.

As a daughter, it is my responsibility to protect my mother. But the fundamental principle underlying among all of these intertwined commitments, among the blamed and the blameless in this complex situation, is that as Salinians we have the responsibility to protect the art education of our students. We are at risk of moving a 15-year veteran of the Art Department, with two master's degrees in education that give her unique training in both early childhood education and in art education, who is fourth on the Art Department total seniority list by less than three years, and who has had paint under her fingernails for as long as I can remember, to teach science, math, reading and writing. If called upon to teach these subjects she will undoubtedly perform with flying colors ... but she will not be painting with them. It is ludicrous.

There is nothing Cindy Larsen wants less than to have attention drawn to the hours puts in, the friendships she cultivates, and the commitments she honors, and the thoughts expressed here are my own and no one else's. But the facts are clear, and her case is only one of many instances where best practices for students are being left behind.

So, as my mother's daughter, it should be no surprise that I have zero fear of speaking up. To the administrators, colleagues, parents, and students lucky enough to call Cindy Larsen a friend, teacher, or -- most covetous -- both, I encourage you to contact Saline Area Schools and make sure they know that this move is bad for students and undermines our confidence in their leadership. This can be done by contacting Scot Graden or Steve Laatsch at 734-429-8000, exts. 8001 or 8002, or and

Kelsey L. Larsen is the daughter of Cindy Larsen and is a doctoral student in government at Georgetown University. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University, and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Iowa with a degree in political science. Larsen is a 2005 graduate of Saline High School.



Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

What...Scot Graden the Superintendent has never been a teacher or principal? Sounds like the position is more in line with an Emergency Manager. Sounds like a rags to riches aftenoon special "The good ole boy from Saline who worked his way up from Community Ed." The same man that lined the athletic fields for baseball is now making unsound educational decisions that will negatively impact the education of thousands of students. Oh I remember now... he fell into that position after Superintendent Bev Geltner was run out of town. The community thought he would be a breath of fresh air. He uses top down decision making (much like Gov. Snyder) throwing collaborative decision making right out the window. Even the principals have no voice in his actions. If he were a former teacher I am sure things would be different! I encourage Mr. Graden to substitute in a classroom for just one day. Then he might have a little more compassion and respect for how hard teachers work.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:58 p.m.

It may be of interest to note that Ms. Larsen knocks down over $85,000 according to information provided by the school district. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Perhaps this rant should be hand delivered to the union leadership who negotiated the terms and conditions of the teacher contract. +85K for an art teacher?????? Heckuva gig if you get it.


Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 3:05 a.m.

SalineSara, Excellent find. Talk about being out in left field. Good Day


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:08 p.m.

Kelsey Larsen has her own political agenda for the record. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

I am writing in response to Kelsey Larsen's poignant letter supporting her mother and the recent change in her teaching duties. Inasmuch as I think that Ms. Larsen is being a loving, supportive daughter in writing this op-ed piece, I am troubled that neither she nor was able to see that such a letter is completely devoid of impartiality. In fact, even though it is a superbly written letter that addresses several disconcerting issues being experienced by many educators; the fact that it was written by (and published) Cindy Larsen's daughter creates a conflict-of-interest that is impossible to overcome. I understand and salute Ms. Larsen (Kelsey) for wanting to right a perceived wrong. At the same time, Mrs. Larsen's (Cindy's) case would have been much more compelling had it been written by someone with a more objective perspective.

Jimmy Olsen

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 12:36 a.m.

Very well put Kelsey, but I would also encourage you to contact the Saline Education Association leadership (Tim Heim ( and Juan Lauchu ( They were given a proposal to avoid layoffs and possible reassignments, but that was rejected through negotiations. This move is bad for students and undermines my confidence in their leadership. I wonder did they share this proposal with the SEA membership ? What would it have cost each teacher ? For the past 4 years the layoffs and reassignments are always touted as the &quot;saddest&quot; day, but no one is stepping up to the plate to end it. The administrations hands are tied by seniority rules (possibly relaxed by the legislature), the SEA contract and teacher certifications among other things. Don't take this as teacher bashing, or balancing the budgets on their is simple and pure economic reality.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 4:17 p.m.

So, all this talk about &quot;highly qualified&quot; teachers; anyone certified in anything should be an expert teacher.....Let me ask the Saline School Board, and the Saline Area Schools Community, What is Scot Graden certified to teach?, What is Scot Graden's EXPERT teaching background? What qualifies Scot Graden to make such decisions about classroom teachers and what is best for kids? When did he teach? Where? Was he an expert teacher that worked his way up through the system based on his exemplary performance as a classroom teacher, an assistant principal, and then a principal? NO!


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 10:21 p.m.

Ask your elected board members that put him in this position what his experiences and expertise were to give him the Saline power as Superintendent.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

How is it that every person who commented here failed to recognize the real sacrifice being made? The fact that the arts aren't valued as highly as the math and science is the real tragedy. As the author wrote, her mother is clearly capable of teaching elementary level math and science -- two masters degrees in education cover elementary ed. The problem is that the education system of this country is so broken that we are willing to choose the importance of one subject over another, sacrificing the futures of those students that will respond to, and grow from, art education. Yes, they could fire this phenomenal art teacher and replace her with a K-5 educator that did not specialize in art. We could throw blame on the unions. We could throw blame on the superintendent or the principal. But who we really have to blame is ourselves. We have lost what is important in this country. There is nothing more important than the education of our children, and that INCLUDES teaching them about art, music, dance, and all of those other &quot;impractical&quot; subjects that we find so unnecessary now that the budget is being funneled in any direction but education. Ms. Larsen, your article is both moving and forceful. I wish your mother all of the best, and thank her for her service.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

&quot;The fact that the arts aren't valued as highly as the math and science is the real tragedy.&quot; You're right, as evidenced by all those artists that helped us put a man on the moon. Good Night and Good Grief


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

I think I'll reserve my sympathy for the teachers who have lost their jobs completely because their worth is judged entirely by how many years they've clocked (and because the unions are run by teachers with seniority whose jobs are in no danger).


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

I agree. A teacher who has extensive professional experience in teaching art, but none in a regular classroom really has no place teaching in an area in which she has no practical knowledge. If the area school cannot afford art education, they should dismiss the art teacher and replace him or her with a professional classroom instructor with the appropriate background. Moving an art teacher to the classroom directly with no additional or review training does the children a huge disservice. I hope this article will spotlight attention on this problem. There are probably thirty or forty highly qualified professionals in our are who would be better suited to this position and who would line up to apply in a *second*.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

&quot; To the administrators, colleagues, parents, and students lucky enough to call Cindy Larsen a friend, teacher, or -- most covetous -- both, I encourage you to contact Saline Area Schools and make sure they know that this move is bad for students and undermines our confidence in their leadership. &quot; You forgot ( or purposely excluded) to send your letter to the folks who really caused your mother to be moved to a new assignment. Your letter should have been sent to the union that your mother works for which of course is the SEA and the MEA. Your agenda is all too clear !

Jonny Spirit

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 6:21 p.m.

Listen to what you are saying. The SEA made the top 2 people in the district to involuntary transfer over 200 teachers in the past 2 years. You got to be kidding me if you think this is the case. The top 2 people made these decisions all by them selves. You can not trade cash for employers, or every year the company would come to you asking for more money back and threaten you every year to give more money back or we will lay more teachers off. This is common sense or lesson 101 on how to negotiate. So you are telling me if the teacher would work for half there salary they could keep all the teachers, yeah that sounds fair. I just wish I had a Union that looked out for me like the teacher Union. Do some more research before you AGAIN start ripping off more useless garbage.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

I know for some of us it is hard to connect the dots. The unions fight tooth and nail for reasonable cuts that will keep their brethren working and keep them in their current positions. The SEA is directly responsible for the reassingment of Ms. Larsen and don't tell us that they could not do anything because it would break their union contract.

Jonny Spirit

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

Once again the Union has no say in the movement of these teachers. You are WRONG again &quot;stunhsif&quot; There are 2 people making these decisions and the Union is not one of them. The only thing the Union has a say in, is to make sure seniority is followed. If you did any research or ask a teacher from Saline, and get there story. They will tell you that 148 teachers were moved last year and 58 were moved this year. There is only a little over 300 in the district. Who knows what Mr. Graden will do next year. His fear tactic is not working and it sounds like it is making a crappy working condition. Saline has teachers with no teaching certificate teaching in the high school, look into this. Teachers who got laid off with a teaching certificate are getting kicked to the curb while the Administration is letting non certified teachers keeping there job. Do you think the Union has any thing to do with this? I don't know, but I can tell you it is not right.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

Wait a minute, so you're saying there are consequences to underfunding education?


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

I believe Saline administrators must hold firm to their decision of reassigning teachers to the positions they have for the 2011-2012 school year. No teacher would be placed in a position where they were not &quot;highly qualified&quot; to teach based on their teaching certification. When a teacher is hired, they know their certification and that they could be assigned to teach any of it. I have heard of kindergarten teachers going to 5th grade, 3rd grade to high school French, 3rd to 2nd, 5th to 4th, 1st to special education...the list goes on. This teacher is lucky to have a position in this tough educational time. Is it right how the district is jerking people around? No, but it happens- it has happened to many. Administration has the power to do it. Change is good. I have every confidence that this teacher will serve the children of Saline well, and through her creativity, rise to the occasion and fulfill her placement in a professional manner. Get over it, accept it, and make it a positive. The Saline students need your enthusiasm and dedication. If not, I'm sure there are hundreds of eager teacher candidates who would love the opportunity to do so. Hold firm administration. If you switch one assignment back, I can see the line of others expecting the same treatment.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

@Scott-By reassigning this teacher and others, think of the newer teachers whose jobs were saved. In my district I took a pay cut to save recent hires. There's always the chance of having to teach something within your certification. Prepare for it. Change is coming!


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

You're wrong, I have the education to be highly qualified to teach biology and I would be horrible at it. Certifications aren't specific, I didn't get a choice to just be able to certify for high school, middle school is included regardless of whether or not I've prepared for it. Also the meme of being lucky to have a job is such a load of crap. There will always be a relativistic case of someone who has it better or worse than you, but the absolute case of this being a bad thing is not up for debate.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Kelsey, have you considered running for Miss America?


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

Its about the kids in Saline. Is there a better teacher for that class available (answer: most undoubtedly yes.) Will the people who can do something about it DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT? No? That is the problem. Great teachers aren't as hard to find as many think. It's just that they get no respect from those who &quot;handle&quot; them. When people are focused on the other teachers, tenure, unions, seniority, blah blah blah THE KIDS get shortchanged. Can everybody win? Probably. Is there an easy path towards that from where we stand? No. What is most important? THE KIDS. The rest is an excuse for not keeping them as our first priority.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

This has nothing to do with the 'fundamental evil of unions.' If anyone is evil in this it is the multibillionaires who have mostly inherited d their money from mommy and daddy, and don't want to pay any taxes. Unions are trying to provide for people. The wealthy are trying to take from people. You don't like unions? They don't have them in third world countries. You are free to move there. Your lifestyle is the result of these evil unions. On behalf on them, I give you a big evil 'you're welcome.'

Mr. Ed

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

I would agree with Enso all the current labor laws are a direct result of UNIONS and the people who died just for the right to have a fair safe place to work while being treated with respect. We have way to many examples of greed over the welfare of the workers. Braggslaw you have the Federal Labor Dept protecting YOU, Braggslaw you have OSHA protecting YOU, Braggslaw you have Workers comp protecting you. The list goes on and on. America is a great Country and I would not live any where else in the World. But America is not always fair nor is life. You do need to take responsibility for your future. Life is about flexibility but we must stop attacking the middle class and the working class and work to together to make our future better.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

That's laughable. There is also the argument that we have the highest corporate tax rates of any other country.... What they don't tell you is that corporations in this country pay the least amount of taxes than in any other similar country. I'm not talking about what the books say they should pay, I'm talking about what they actually do. You have that typical American &quot;I don't know anything about history&quot; mentality. YOU may not have need a group of people to protect you. But YOU have still benefited from unions. So once again, you're welcome.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:22 p.m.

Right on braggslaw, I had a good laugh after reading this post !


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Multibillionaires pay 2/3 of the federal taxes collected. The top 20% pay 80% of the taxes. Unions are insidious but ultimately cause rot and decay. I never needed a group of people to protect me because I am good at what I do.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

I am glad to see you have your mother's back (because a mom always has her kid's back) There are wacky results with teacher's unions due to seniority. Saline is pulling counselors back into the classroom, having french taught by teacher's who have not spoken a word of french in a decade etc. The younger teachers are getting laid off. My problem with the union is that people are being retained based on years of experience and not ability or talent. The fundamental evil of unions.

Mr. Ed

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

Seniority rules are and were put in place for a reason. many many years ago the older worker would or could be sent home early because he worked slower or was not able to keep up with the younger worker. Seniority rules work. If a more senior teacher is not producing good results or lacks the motivation to the children then Management is not doing what they should be doing. As an older worker I'm glad we have protections like this in place. We have lost and forgot our labor history and struggles. I would take a seasoned teacher over a new younger excited teacher because it's going to take the new teacher at least 5 years to figure it out in the class room.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

Is it a choice (union rules or administration) between reassignment and layoff? If Saline is eliminating art teaching positions, this might be the reason for the reassignment.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

Unfortunate circumstances. Blame it on the failed millage (last year) and move on. Your mother, while talented, is needed elsewhere and art (the arts) has never been a high priority for any HS curriculum during belt tightening exercises.


Sun, Jun 26, 2011 : 11:41 a.m.

One of the problems with our schools is that some teachers are teaching subjects that they have little knowledge of the subjects that they are teaching. To reassign an art teacher to science and math says that, teaching method is more important than subject matter. What is the real motivation of the administration? Do they really want her to teach math and science or are they trying to make her quit?