Menlo Park schools must face the music
Changes are ahead for the music program in the Menlo Park City School District.
The district's four music teachers are increasingly hard-pressed to serve the growing number of students, but there's no money in the budget to add more teachers next year, according to district officials.
Elementary school students get music lessons in the Orff method, and once in fourth grade, children can decide whether to take up instrumental music for band, stringed instruments, or continue with Orff.
"We're trying to keep the programs as alive as we can make them, in a difficult year," Jo Sauer Mitchell, the assistant superintendent, told the school board at its May 12 meeting.
With teachers spread so thin, there's only one teacher for the 80 first-time musicians currently in the fourth-grade band class.
"With 80 kids, on all different instruments, two times a week, how much attention can they get?" said Ms. Mitchell. "It's clear to all of us, there needs to be a change."
Figuring out how to coordinate schedules between four different campuses, without simply eliminating music entirely in one or more grades, is a problem that has yet to be solved.
"Even the famous Mr. Holland would have trouble with 80 different fourth-graders who have never played an instrument," quipped Hillview principal Mike Moore, referring to the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus."
Ms. Mitchell is vehemently opposed to simply eliminating music class in earlier grades and having students start the program later, an idea floated by several board members. The program is sequential and builds upon the previous years, she said.
"I think it would be a complete decimation of an outstanding elementary music program," she told the board.
Board members Maria Hilton and Mark Box asked for information about the music program's goals and priorities.
"We can't do everything we want to do," said Mr. Box. "We're going to have to cut something off."
However, Superintendent Ken Ranella said that the amount of music instruction time for primary grades might have to be reduced, from two classes a week to just one, in order to allow for more teaching time for older students in band. Whatever the solution, it will come from the administrative staff, not the school board.
"We wanted you to become aware of the problem," Mr. Ranella told the board. "We'll let you know how we administratively put this together."