REDDING, Conn. -- Emma Boland, a junior at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, says her jewelry teacher Lee Skalkos is a real gem — and "irreplaceable."
She was, therefore, disappointed to learn that Skalkos’ position will be eliminated at the end of the school year due to budget cuts.
"Everything I know about jewelry, I've learned from her. And it's very disheartening that she won't be at Barlow next year," Boland said.
Boland was one of five of Skalkos' students who won top honors in the recent Scholastic Art Awards for jewelry created under the art teacher's tutelage. It was Boland's fourth straight year of winning a top award.
Under the $23.8 million budget for the next school year, Skalkos' job would be eliminated along with the positions of several other teachers and staff members at Barlow, according to the Redding Pilot.
Skalkos, an Easton resident, has taught at Barlow for 13 years. She "really goes out of her way for her students — both in class and out," Boland said.
"I'm constantly still learning new things from Lee. ... On top of that, she always goes out of her way to learn about new jewelry styles and techniques, which she teaches me and the rest of her classes," Boland said.
The 16-year-old said Skalkos is the only teacher she has ever had who asks the students how they're doing and is genuinely concerned about the answer. "She says to all of her classes, 'My door is always open if you ever need to talk or just sit if something is going wrong and you're not really sure what to do,'" Boland said.
Nearly 1,000 people, including many former students, have signed an online petition seeking to save Skalkos' job.
At a recent Region 9 Board of Education meeting, several parents — as well as Barlow alumni — spoke on her behalf.
“I believe it would be incredibly short-sighted to cut Ms. Skalkos’ job," said Easton resident Kiko Teed, who has two freshmen students at Barlow. "To say that she is a community treasure would be an understatement."
In addition, she said Skalkos was one of only 12 teachers in the nation to be selected for the 2017 Yellowstone and STEAM teacher workshop this summer at Yellowstone National Park.
With emotion in her voice, Teed said that not every student excels academically and stressed the importance of the arts for a well-rounded education.
"Many students at Barlow will not follow the academic track of STEM, and communities all over the world are now focusing on STEAM," which adds the arts to the focus on science, technology, engineering and math in schools, she said.
"There is an emphasis on the arts to inspire students to continue to a higher education and rewarding careers," Teed said.
She asked the school board to “keep an outstanding teacher who has shown her immeasurable worth to us all.”