When I attended a Regional Meeting earlier this fall, I met Keith Bowen and some other parents. They are parents who are concerned about orchestra offerings the follow-thru from middle to high school music especially around the orchestra offerings. I talked with them after the meeting and Keith sent me this article about their concerns which I want to share with you. (I edited this article for length.) If you would like to reach him to join his group or offer ideas, his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
The new Student Assignment Plan (SAP) changes the demographics of who is assigned to which school. However, specialized programs are still in place at these same locations but now the students are distributed without regard to their interests or merit.
Parents, teachers and local administrators predicted the oncoming situation and how it
would affect a prized resource of music education. They predicted that existing programs would come dangerously close to not having enough participants to justify a full time professional educator (125 students). Calculations indicated that schools that thought they were going to have new programs would not receive a critical mass necessary to fill a classroom. Petitions were gathered and presented to the administration. Emails poured into the suggestion site. Meetings were attended. The school board was addressed. Individual meetings with board members were arranged and parents met regularly to discuss ways to be heard by the district. The 2009-2010 school year was discouraging to these community members. They felt that they had no voice. Their ideas to help went unnoticed with the district administration refusing to listen or meet with them.
The 2010-2011 school year has now begun and the predictions and calculations of the
naysayers have proven accurate. But this year there are unifying themes. The shock of having only nine, moving downward to five, in the upstart orchestra classroom at Nathan Hale; and the diminished freshman class at Roosevelt, has alarmed all. At a recent Goodloe-Johnson coffee conversation meeting at Eckstein Middle School parent representatives were able to dialogue with Goodloe-Johnson and Susan Enfield. Principals were also in attendance. Parents came prepared with a number of well thought
out plans to help the existing students and separate plans for the future. These plans focus on building music programs in all schools, spring-boarding off the success of the current programs. The parents felt they had an audience and an official meeting was scheduled and held. A plan has been created that should mitigate some of the problems this year within a short timeline, and a suggested promise for meetings about the future was taken into advisement. Principals seem to be trying to help. The Roosevelt freshman orchestra has gained a few underserved students as a result of the recent adjustments in student assignments. Educators, parents and students in established programs are finding ways to reach out to the new programs. The area’s professional music educators are meeting discussing long-term ideas. They seem encouraged by the prospects of stabilized feeder elementary schools that the new SAP brings, while very concerned about the health of the high school programs.
Obstacles that have been unearthed include but are not limited to: transportation,
official instructional time, teacher training and education, site based management verses district oversight, territorial protection, specific contractual restrictions, fear of upper administration, pride in an ideology placed above the well being of current students, fear of change and fear of failure. It is sad to realize how easily most of these problems could have been overcome if dealt with before the new SAP was implemented. Now we must work to change the barriers for success from hindsight.
The middle school teachers have a clear and realistic view of the situation. They are in a difficult emotional situation. They see great benefit from music education and see young lives transformed by being part of something as cooperative and cognitive as music. Yet to lead students into such a pursuit without a similar experience available in high school seems cruel. It is difficult to prove “ the chicken or the egg” . Students involved in school music programs have some of the highest test scores and success rates in other academic areas. Our Seattle Public Schools have produced some of the countries most outstanding school musical groups. Our community loves to site the awards and achievements of these groups as an affirmation of the success of our community as a whole.
Equity in such cognitive pursuits cannot be achieved by equal access to “educational materials” but may only be achieved by equal access to high achieving programs. Let us all set aside our pride and come together work for real solutions.