Supporters sing praises of fifth-grade band
USD 232 Board of Education majority remain concerned about loss of instructional class time
Two weeks ago, members of the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education said they wanted to hear from district parents, staff and students about the possible elimination of fifth-grade band.
They weren't disappointed. At the start of Monday's De Soto USD 232 Board of Education meeting, board members reported they received numerous e-mails and letters in support of keeping the program. They heard more Monday, as 10 of the 40 supporters attending the meeting urged them to keep, if not expand, the elementary school band program.
After listening to the program's advocates, Board members agreed they were nowhere near a decision on the issue. Although two Board members said cutting the program should be off the table, the majority agreed tough times might require tough decisions.
Before the first speaker, the Board sought to clarify its position. The elimination of fifth-grade band was first brought up two weeks ago as a discussion item, Board President Jim Thomas said. No decision was made about the program, nor had a formal proposal been presented, he said.
The Board's discussion on the topic started Feb. 17 when Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said she and the district's four elementary school teachers asked the Board to consider elimination of the program because of lost class time. The program cost students two hours of class time a week, or 8 percent of their total, the superintendent said at the earlier meeting.
She warned mandated annual yearly progress in the No Child Left Behind Act put a premium on instruction hours needed to prepare for assessment tests.
Advocates, however, claimed the program had long been a target for elimination. They maintained the administration had indicated elementary band instructor Angie Shelton wouldn't be replaced and that her salary would be used to hire two part-time learning coaches. Cost savings, and not the need for more classroom time, was the real motivation for the move, the speakers said.
"When I talked to Dr. Zoellner, she said discussions on elimination had been going on for four or five years," said Kent Willnauer of De Soto. "No Child Left Behind was signed January 1, 2002. It's March 1, 2004. You do the math."
Willnauer also criticized the process that led to Zoellner starting the discussion to eliminate fifth-grade band. Before the Board discussion of two weeks earlier, involvement was limited to the district's central administration and the four elementary school principals, he said.
Rather than eliminate the fifth-grade program, the Board should make band available to fourth-graders, Willnauer said.
"Music education delayed is music education denied," he said.
Perhaps the case for fifth-grade band was best made by Monticello Trails Middle School sixth-grader Matthew Chalk.
"Entering fifth grade, I just didn't feel like I fit in," he said. "Because of fifth-grade band, I found out who I am."
The sixth-grader said he was now in three school bands and the Kansas City Youth Jazz Band.
Chalk's testimonial was echoed by several parents who noted the positive influence the district's band program had on their children.
In his lengthy presentation, Lexington Trails Middle School and De Soto High School band director Justin Love said although the fine arts were not tested as part of No Child Left Behind they were required for graduation. In addition to the personal enrichment music education provided, it reinforced reading, writing, math and history education while developing a sense of commitment, he said.
Love provided the Board with results from a number of studies that showed students leaving the classroom for band performed as well or better than their peers on assessment tests.
The elimination of fifth-grade band was a major policy change and, thus, should have been discussed with the district's instrumental teachers, Love said. The faculty members had discussions on their own about possible changes to the program and would have welcomed an opportunity to discuss that with the administration, he said.
Zoellner said she had a good discussion on the issue with the district's instrumental music faculty earlier Monday. Those would continue, she said.
For his part, Love presented four proposals to the board. Two would retain the fifth-grade program, and two would start band in the sixth grade with the hiring of an additional band instructor for the De Soto campus.
The strong support for the program was enough to convince board member Don Clark.
"I would like to see a proposal that says we don't even consider eliminating fifth-grade band," he said to applause. "On my time on the Board, we haven't seen anything that got as much community involvement."
Although Board member Jim Plummer said he, too, would vote to support the program, the remaining five Board members acknowledged Zoellner and the elementary school principals' points were valid.
Board member Sandra Thierer said her concern was the students left in a non-productive classroom when musically motivated students went to band.
"They're left sitting in a classroom principals tell me is essentially a study hall," she said. "I don't think it is a productive use of their time. I'm not pro getting rid of band. I'm pro we give kids productive class time."
For Thomas, that was the key issue.
"I don't know what percentage of fifth-graders take band," he said. "I know it's not all of them. All of them take the tests, however."
Thomas asked Zoellner to develop a proposal for the board's consideration at its April 19 meeting.
Zoellner said she would start discussions with the faculty next week about finding a solution.
Board members and Zoellner conceded the matter wasn't handled well and that communication needed to be improved. Board member Rick Walker of De Soto said the issue should have been put before the site council at each elementary school, and at which time would have opened the process to community response, he said.