What is being called a “work in progress” by Maryville school officials is nonetheless hitting a sour note for some parents of music students in the system.
A trio of “design teams” is examining possible changes in course offerings that, according to Maryville City Schools spokeswoman Sharon Anglim, will be based on a reconfiguration of grade levels.
The aim in grades 4-7, she said, is to “increase the amount of time in math and science and still accommodate music instruction daily for students.”
But some parents say that any plan that cuts music instruction to anything short of every day is simply out of tune with their desires.
Suzy McLaughlin said she and her family moved to Maryville from Farragut in 2004 so her three sons could participate in the music programs at various school levels. But rumblings that daily instruction may be cut to two or three days a week and that instruction will not begin at all until beyond 5th grade has raised her concern to a point well above middle C.
“Music is math and science,” McLaughlin said. “Their minds are ready for this when they are young. People want their kids to start music in intermediate school.”
McLaughlin’s eldest son, John Riley McLaughlin, is 15 and a freshman on the MHS football team, she said. But he also plays violin in the school orchestra, which within the past two weeks got the opportunity to perform in New York’s venerated Carnegie Hall. The prestigious invitation to perform there was only afforded to about a dozen schools nationwide.
Mark Ross’ son, Kendall, a senior, also plays in the orchestra, and Ross says that while he understands the constraints of a tight budget and competitiveness of the No Child Left Behind program, any reduction in the musical portion of the educational equation would be cutting “an important part of what kids do at school.”
Ross is a 1979 graduate of MHS and played cello in the orchestra, and his wife, Priscilla, plays and has taught violin. Mark Ross has since migrated to playing guitar and now plays standup bass in a bluegrass gospel band.
He says it is important for students “to have the opportunity to have orchestra or anything of the arts. That’s huge to me.”
Anglim says the design teams are involved in “optimization, the need to balance our course load and offerings” in a way that benefits “the maximum number of students served.”
Maryville schools, she said, have “an outstanding music program, and we have no desire to diminish that in any way.”
But, she said, some form of “rotation” between orchestra, band and choir with other “specials” such as technology, physical education or art might achieve the goal of giving “students the academic coursework they need to be successful and to also offer them music as well as other things.
“But we’ve only got so many minutes in the day. It’s not about cutting music instruction in Maryville City Schools. It’s about giving all students the best opportunity.”
Anglim said one design team is looking at grades 4-7, another at 8 and 9 and another grades 10-12.
Parents are represented on the design teams, she said, and “we are very much seeking parent input.”
It appears she may get it, too, as a number of parents say they will be at the Maryville Board of Education’s next meeting on Monday, May 9, to discuss the issue.
Anglim said it is “a good conversation for the community to have,” and she suggested parents can make their thoughts known by e-mailing or calling the Central Office or by checking the Web site for updates.
No changes will be implemented until the 2012-13 school year at the earliest, she said, and funding will play no role in any decision.
That, at least, will help the McLaughlin family, because the youngest son, Seth, 9, will be entering the 5th grade in the coming fall, when he plans to sign up for cello. His older brother, Caden, 13, is in the 7th grade and has been playing violin since 5th grade.
Their mother says all three make “excellent grades. They are honor students, and I know music has a lot to do with it.”
Melissa Allen has been a private music instructor working with the Maryville school system for 15 years, and she says that she fears that daily instruction going “down to half-time” of two or three days a week will slow students’ progress.
She said muscle technique develops flexibility and dexterity and that it is “really important” for children to start younger -- “the earlier the better” -- to “build good habits as part of their physical and mental training.
“Daily instruction is part of the success.”
Ross said that any cutbacks in instruction time would hurt lower income families most.
The parents of “affluent kids,” he said, could afford to obtain private instruction. But children from single-parent households, those being reared by grandparents or those in public housing, “they do not have a voice.
“Every kid needs to be a part of something.”