Terrace school band program safe, say officials

But there will be changes to the way music is now being taught

THE GROUP formed to preserve band music education in elementary schools says it’s been given assurances there won’t be any changes.

George Clark of the Dare to Dream Foundation says it was given those assurances in a meeting last week with senior Coast Mountain school district officials. Less certain, he said, is the impact on music instruction.

At issue is the plan to do away with specific music instruction provided by a specialist teacher at two of the city’s elementary schools, Cassie Hall and French-immersion Ecole Mountainview, in favour of a broad-based fine arts program.

That’s similar to what was put in place last year at Suwilaawks Community School. Untouched, for now, are music programs taught by specialist teachers at Uplands Elementary and Thornhill Elementary, in part because of staff seniority at those schools.

While Clark said there was no specific reason given for the planned Cassie Hall and Ecole Mountainview changes, Dare to Dream is satisfied band instruction won’t largely be affected.

“As long as there won’t be any reduction in the amount of time for band, we’ll be satisfied,” he said.

And Clark said Dare to Dream was told the Suwilaawks conversion to a fine arts program has been largely successful.

Suwilaawks principal Pam Kawinsky says the new program engages all students and is integral to the school, in part because of the passion of the teachers.

“Our fine arts program continues to intertwine each of the four areas,  music, dance, drama and visual arts,” she said.

“With such a wide variety of individual passions, our goal is to have each child find ways to use their creativity to enhance their school experience,” she said, noting that the students have had many relevant opportunities to showcase their skills, including videos, flash mobs, music performances, and the student art gallery.

Speaking to fine arts programming in the district, school board chair Art Erasmus says over the years the district has at times focused on music at the expense of drama and art.

What’s more, with shrinking school populations there are not full-time positions available for music specialists.

“It’s a staffing issue,” he said.

“We are left with the choice of saying, do we do the music piece as necessary as a person who is a trained elementary teacher who can teach reading and arithmetic and who also does music, or do we hire a music specialist to teach reading and arithmetic,” he said.

“That’s the problem. And we are clearly on the side that reading and arithmetic are key to children being successful in all of their school,” he said, noting that the district is not cutting any of the fine arts prescribed curriculum, which calls for music, art, and drama.

He said that no decision has been set in stone, and it could very well happen that music specialists are rehired at Cassie Hall and Ecole Mountainview. Layoff notices to teachers with lower seniority are issued each May, with jobs posted and hired for throughout the summer.

But Terrace and District Teacher’s Union president Cathy Lambright says the district and school administrators at Ecole Mountainview and Cassie Hall made a mistake by not consulting parents earlier.

“They should have gone to their [parent advisory committee],” she said, noting that the union was also not consulted.

Hiring a non-music specialist at Ecole Mountainview could be setting a teacher up for failure, she said, noting the level of expectation from parents’ with regards to music education at that school.

And she questions how this will affect the music festivals, which music specialist teachers play a key role in, and whether the same quality program the community sees with music will occur with fine arts.

“Because it is so school based, and because it is so personnel dependent, there may be able to be a wonderful fine arts program, and when that teachers retires, moves on, quits, changes schools, what happens to the program at that school?”

There also needs to be better continuity for the district as a whole, she said, with more of a long-term plan that is communicated clearly to staff and parents.

That’s one area George Clark says will be improved on his end, with two meetings a year between Dare to Dream and the school district, one in April and the other in October.

“This way we’ll know in April what’s going to happen and in October how things are working out,” said Clark.

Clark, parents and music teachers are expected at tonight’s school district meeting to speak to the issue.