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School Board approves music program changes

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Friday April 12, 2002

The Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night to restructure the district’s music program, but left the door open for future revisions. 

Under the new plan, next year the district would: 

• cut 1.7 of 11.5 full-time music teacher positions, for an estimated savings of $82,560 

• increase fourth- and fifth-grade class sizes from an average of 10 to a range of 18-25 

• assign two to three teachers to each elementary school, rather than the current four to five 

• expand music instruction, which runs from grades four through 12, to the third grade 

• in the fourth and fifth grades, combine winds, brass and percussion courses into a band class, continue to offer strings under the title of “orchestra,” and possibly replace a “music exploratory” course, featuring singing and recorder lessons among other things, with chorus 

Board members suggested that the staffing reductions, class size increases, assignment of two to three teachers per elementary school, and expansion to third grade are solid changes that will remain in place. But they said the program details for the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade programs are still open to discussion. 

Starting next year, third-graders are slated to take an introductory music course once a week, listening to tunes for pitch and rhythm, learning some basic fingering on the recorder and taking a look at various instruments they might pick up in the fourth grade. 

Board member John Selawsky suggested Wednesday night that the district add some basic voice training to the third grade program to lay the foundation for the proposed fourth-grade chorus program. 

“Voice is the primary and fundamental musical instrument,” Selawsky said, arguing for the change.  

But the fourth- and fifth-grade chorus offering is still up for debate. 

Currently, fourth- and fifth-graders who do not take an instrumental course are in the “music exploratory” class. Board members and administrators say the course is not what it could be. 

“It’s been seen as a dumping ground,” said Suzanne McCulloch, visual and performing arts coordinator for the district, noting that students who drop an instrument, or do not want to play one, gravitate to the course. 

McCulloch, who coordinates the music program, said music teachers have written a curriculum for the class, but have not yet implemented it. 

McCulloch said the district needs to tighten up and adapt the “exploratory” curriculum for the proposed chorus class, and actually implement that curriculum, if the new course is to be successful. 

Board members say they will seek further input from teachers and a board advisory group, the Music Curriculum Committee, before approving the final music restructuring details. 


First reading of new board policy 

Later in the evening, board member Terry Doran objected to Superintendent Michele Lawrence’s plan to dump the board’s jumbled policy manual, which is disorganized and out-of-date, and replace it with a new one that includes the basic policies the district must have on file to be in compliance with state law. 

Lawrence said the new manual is a bare bones document that the board could shape to its liking over the next two years. 

But Doran, the only board member who had read the thick manual thoroughly before Wednesday night, pointed to a series of policies he found objectionable. Doran said they could not possibly be required by state law. 

The policies he cited focused on carbonated beverage contracts, advertising in the schools and metal detectors. “Not on my watch,” Doran said. 

Lawrence was surprised by some of the policies Doran dug up, and thanked him for his thorough reading. Board members plan to read through the document in the coming weeks and suggest revisions before approving the new policy manual.