School board chair Art Erasmus says he’ll meet with the president of the local teachers’ union to discuss the growing unrest amongst teachers involving music education.
The move comes after the Terrace and District Teachers’ Union (TDTU) let their worries that music education is being downgraded be known at a school board meeting last month.
“There has been a subtle shift in the focus around music,” said TDTU president Cathy Lambright in a later interview.
“What we originally had was a complete music and band program that was taught by music and band specialists and that’s where the majority of not only music and band teachers, but the majority of teachers, would like to see it continued,” she said. “It’s something the union hopes to bring to the education committee for a discussion because we feel that this is a valuable program and we would hate to see it fall by the wayside or slowly be eroded.”
Lambright said the union executive is concerned about the future of music education in the district, citing examples at various schools where the music program has changed since last year.
“The program at Suwilaawks Elementary has changed and it’s no longer a music and band program the way it had originally been envisioned through most of the district, they are moving to a fine arts focus,” she said, noting that she believed that school was down to one band and no longer employed a music specialist.
“From the music educators I deal with in Terrace, they’re concerned that the band and music program is being watered down,” she said. “They are concerned because, lets face it, Terrace has always had a really strong music program.”
School board chair Erasmus agrees that Terrace’s music and especially the band program has always been a point of pride for the district and community.
“When the money crunch that’s been with us for a while started, a number of school districts basically cut out band in elementary altogether. We have been able to maintain band in our elementary schools and secondary schools,” he said, noting that this was made possible in part by the support of the Dare-to-Dream Foundation and money from Alcan in Kitimat that has now ended.
The foundation was formed when band was cut altogether from elementary in an early school district budget crisis. Band has since returned to elementary schools and the foundation now offers an intensive weekend workshop each year for elementary students.
“It is clearly a highly desired program in the community and music education, including band, is good for kids and so we want to continue it,” Erasmus said.
But continuing the program is not without its challenges.
“As we decrease in population, the people who have the right to jobs are the people with the most seniority and those are not necessarily teachers in the arts or teachers in PE,” he said.
Programs and staffing are also affected by school size.
“Our schools are not big enough for each school to have a full-time music teacher and we’re competing with the province for teachers who have training in music but can also teach other things so they can have a full-time job,” he said, noting the ultimate goal is to have someone who can teach music in every school.
But these challenges aren’t game-stoppers, and Erasmus said he is going to be in touch with the union to see how they can work together towards what he believes is a common goal and address specific concerns from both sides.
“The teachers are concerned about kids, they want the best for kids, we want the best for kids,” he said. “Some of the practicalities make it difficult.”