Canton committee to revisit orchestra in future
CANTON - At a recent meeting to discuss the feasibility of retaining the orchestra program, the finance committee of the Canton Area School Board agreed to keep things as-is and look at the matter again in the future.
At issue was a string instrument and orchestra phase-out plan that was tabled at the last regular school board meeting, after many people, mostly students, spoke out against the plan. At that time, board member Judy Sourbeer had called for the tabling of the plan, so the board could look into the matter further.
Following this week's committee meeting, The Daily Review asked high school principal Craig Coleman about the current status of the phase-out plan as a result of the committee's decision, and he said that, technically, the phase-out plan is in place for this year.
At the same time, however, orchestra remains intact for this year, as called for in part of the plan, he noted.
"The board will be revisiting this later to see if there will be a way to keep orchestra in years after this year," Coleman explained, when asked for comment.
At the beginning of the meeting, school board and committee member Gary Black said, "We thought it would be a good idea to have a meeting to address the orchestra since it was brought up at the last board meeting, especially in light of the fact that it got so much press." The board treasurer, he is listed on the district's website as the finance/policy review chairperson.
He spoke of the importance of deliberating the matter, thinking it through, and making a decision, so that it wasn't ignored.
Black said the options were to leave the plan as proposed; pay for another music teacher to teach orchestra at a cost of $75,000 per year; or "cut something else" and replace it with orchestra.
"Unless we're prepared to hire another teacher or cut another program, I think our hands our tied," Black said.
Board member Bill Holland acknowledged the difficult funding situation facing school districts these days, and expressed frustrations with "the current administration we have in Harrisburg."
The possibility of a volunteer handling the program was mentioned, but Black thought it was "short-term fix, at best." The feasibility of a substitute or a contracted music instructor was also discussed.
In the end, the committee chose the first option mentioned by Black.
"Let it go, maybe something will turn around," Sourbeer said in expressing some hope.
District superintendent Matt Gordon made some comparisons at the meeting.
According to Gordon, "Canton has a comparable number of music teachers relative to student enrollment when compared to neighboring school districts."
According to his chart of information, Canton has an enrollment of 1,000 and three music teachers. By contrast, Athens school district has an enrollment of 2,159 and five music teachers. Neighboring Troy school district has an enrollment of 1,460 and four music teachers. Wyalusing school district's enrollment is 1,375 and it has three music teachers, according to the information presented by Gordon. Currently, these are the school districts in the county with string programs.
According to the district, teacher Diana Bailey submitted the three-year phase-out plan for the orchestra.
The district once employed one teacher to teach band and another to teach orchestra, and when the orchestra teacher retired, the position wasn't replaced, in order to save money. Since then, Bailey has been teaching both band and orchestra, but she is no longer willing to teach orchestra, because she said that there aren't enough hours in the workday for her to teach both programs. Bailey is asking kids who are playing strings to switch to a traditional band instrument.
Recently, the marching band returned in the school district, as students became interested in the program once again.
"The music program was reduced two years ago to three (positions), and I guess Mrs. Bailey indicated to us that she's really been struggling trying to do the string and the instrumental," Gordon said, as he provided some background.
Providing some more information about the phase-out plan, Gordon added that Bailey's message was "that if you're already doing a stringed instrument, you won't be asked to give it up. They will incorporate the stringed instrument into the marching band. In other words, somebody won't be excluded just because they're playing a violin or a cello."
"However, they're going to have to seek their own private teacher beyond this year," he also noted.
Jared Wilcox, who is the president of the board, said he was in favor of the arts, but said, "at some point, parents have to take responsibility for providing an avenue for their children to pursue their dreams. We can't do everything for the child." Black noted that parents pay for different types of instruction for their children, such as piano lessons or gymnastic lessons.
A petition had been submitted at the last regular school board meeting with 158 signatures of people in support of the orchestra.
"The majority of those students, 120 or so, were high school students, not necessarily band members," Gordon pointed out. Black thought it was nice, however, that they were interested in getting involved with a cause.
In another matter, Gordon also brought up a finding regarding music instruction that he said was a concern. It was discovered during some research that was done.
"We have students that are getting music instruction, getting pulled out of academic classes, and in looking at their performance on PSSA's, they're below basic," he said.
"I'm just bringing that to the board's attention because maybe that's something that we need to address with the music department, that if there's any possible way that we can avoid pulling a child out of reading class, if they're already below basic in reading, we should explore it."
Board member Eric Anderson said, "that's always been a problem. I know when my kids were in the band, they weren't below basic necessarily, but we used to insist that they not be pulled from any class that they were struggling in to go to a lesson, and she used to try to accommodate that. And the problem with that now is with only her there, she only has certain times of day that she can do it, and that's really where the problem comes."
"We can say, 'you can't take a kid out if he's below basic,' but there may not be any other time that she can work with that student."
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: firstname.lastname@example.org