School Renamed in Honor of Longtime Arts Educator
The Board of Ed voted unanimously to rename Eubank Elementary to Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts.
Who was Janet Kahn?
She was a dreamer and a doer; an innovator and an educator; a soft voice and a huge presence.
As much as anything, though, she was an architect and builder. Working without a template, let alone much funding, Janet reconstructed Albuquerque Public Schools’ elementary music and art programs in the mid-1990s from rubble created by years of destructive budget cuts.
“We would not have a Fine Arts program at APS without her vision, leadership and … tenacity,” Associate Superintendent Diane Kerschen said.
The transformation from nothing to something special is being celebrated this month by APS as the elementary school Fine Arts program marks its 20th anniversary. The department and those who teach art and music in the district’s elementary schools was recognized by the Board of Education at a reception immediately preceding Wednesday’s board meeting, and also during the meeting.
During the meeting, the board voted unanimously to rename Eubank Elementary, with its focus on fine arts, to the Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts.
Today, roughly 100 teachers in APS offer the gift of music and art to the district’s youngest students, and the resulting beauty are seen and heard from Los Padillas to Double Eagle. Those hues and echoes can be directly traced to the woman who for 17 years set her professional gyroscope to these words: “Fine Arts are not an add-on program in education – they are central to everything kids learn.”
That Janet was not be in the John Milne Boardroom to be honored with her colleagues is a mean irony: She died on Jan. 15 at the age of 68 after a long and difficult battle with cancer. She is survived by her husband, Charlie; daughter Jenni; son Zach – and tens of thousands of students who didn’t know her name but were enriched by her life.
Along with her longtime co-pilot and successor, current Fine Arts Instructional Manager Luis Delgado, Janet helped create mileposts that APS students pass every year: Art Is Elementary; the Focus photography exhibit; the Metro Show; Art in the Middle; the Elementary School Honor Choir; A is for Art! That kind of momentum gave rise to a program that now boasts a teacher, Michelle Lemons, as the National Elementary Arts Educator of the Year. And just last week, Albuquerque was recognized as one of the best communities in the nation for music education.
A Highland High School and University of New Mexico graduate, Janet’s intellect and wit were world-class. A conversation with her, friends say, was like speed-reading the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Time and the local newspaper – she knew a lot about nearly everything. That kind of spirit held true at work as well: Professional development sessions with the elementary art teachers were virtuoso exercises in team-building – familial but not provincial; easy-going and yet driven. Most everyone had fun, infused with a sense of mission that had been created when there was just Kahn, Delgado and a handful of teachers trying to transform something little into something big.
“She would always tell us, `You are the face of the department and of each other. When you are at a school, it’s not just you, you’re representing all of us,’” said Lemons, who teaches at Barcelona Elementary. “That made us feel like we’re all in this together, and that this was a department, and that we’re all reflective of that department. It made you accountable, but in a respectful way. And yet, it also set an expectation.”
The high expectations were leavened by a humility and humanity that her friends and colleague miss to this day. Her laugh was distinctive and wry; she had an uncanny way of making bad news seem almost palatable. That was never truer than in the days when the gathering storm of her illness drew near. She continued to help out at Fine Arts and volunteer for events like A is for Art!, only occasionally (and reluctantly) referring to her “unexpected circumstances.”
“Janet was just grace,” said Lemons. “In her demeanor, in her language, in her interactions; she just had so much grace. That sums it up: It was grace.”
Who was Janet Kahn? She was the sound and color of Albuquerque Public Schools.
And in a lot of ways, she still is.