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Cutting middle school music programs would have far reaching negative impact

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(This is an open letter to the Norwalk Board of Education Members and the Norwalk Public Schools Central Office.)

I am writing to express my strong concern and lack of support for the proposed reduction in Middle School Music Department funding being proposed as part of the road-map to reduce the education budget for the coming school year.

I am fully aware that difficult choices must be made in order to address the financial challenges that our district is facing, however, the cuts to the music program will have far reaching negative affects that need to be considered.  As the parent of two students who have matriculated through the middle school music program to the high school level, I have seen first hand the power that the arts can have on an overall education.  We all know the facts, but I will state them here again.

Children engaged in the Arts gain critical life skills including:

  1. Creativity
  2. Confidence
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Perseverance
  5. Focus
  6. Non-verbal Communication
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback
  8. Collaboration
  9. Dedication
  10. Accountability

Specific to our own program, there are significant educational benefits that music education is providing to our students:

Band students excel academically:

  •  3.276 Average GPA for all band students
  • 65 % Qualify for honors
  • 45% Qualifying for High Honors
  • Less than 1% of students below 1.7 GPA (FCIAC eligibility)
  • 98% of band students go on to post-high school education, 91% attend a 4-year college or university

I do not understand why we would put such excellence at risk.

You may think that High School Music and Middle School Music are not at all connected.  The reality is that without instruction at the middle school level, we will see the number of students engaging at the high school level drop precipitously.  Why would we take such a powerful and positive educational tool away from our students?

Finally, as President of the Norwalk High School Band Parent Association I have listened to each of you, as well as the Mayor and multiple other dignitaries, praise our music programs as a “shining start” and as “all that is right” within the greater Norwalk Community.   The action that you are proposing will undermine all of that.

Again, I realize that we are facing financial challenges that must be addressed.  I would, however, suggest that there are other means by which we can accomplish these difficult requirements without putting the future of our students and their well rounded education at risk.

Ed Abrams
President
Marching Bears Inc.

18 comments

NonPartisan June 13, 2017 at 7:11 am

Like everything in life we have choices.

As a city we can have sanctuary policies that attract illegal immigrant population- and directly increase class size, the need for ESL, catch up programs, higher speed costs, and lower test scores

Or we can become anti- sanctuary city- reduce the above costs- and spend tax dollars on worth while programs for real estate tax ( the primary firm of education funding) paying citizens.

Jeffry Spahr June 13, 2017 at 7:56 am

This is an open comment to members of the Board of Ed as well as to the administration and members and leaders of the teachers’ groups:

Over the years I have appeared before you on many occasions to extol the virtues of the City of Norwalk’s music program. I still believe that this is as true today as ever.

I heartily agree with the comments and observations that Ed Abrams had delivered to you. All of those are true. I want to add two more: Diversity and Inclusion.

These programs bring together, shoulder to shoulder, kids from every strata and stripe of our community. I witnessed this first hand with my daughter who spent 4 years in the NHS Band and 3 more before that atWest Rocks. These do not see color or cash. They judge each other ( and take a measure of themselves) based on how hard they work and how much of a team player they are.

I also know that not every kid can catch, throw, dunk, or sprint with speed and agility. Many kids do not have a father figure ( like I did) who would always be willing to play catch with me regardless of how tired he was. So, not every kid can become part of an athletic team and feel the camaraderie that comes along with that. By being a member of the band or one of the music programs a student can feel the inclusion that others feel. This is particularly important for our students who may have difficulty with their social skills or who might not always be mainstreamed in the classroom.

Accordingly, I would like to add my support for the adequate funding of our music programs. I believe that they truly deliver the values we wish for our kids to have and are an extremely valuable asset to our community.

M. Jeffry Spahr
(Naramake Elementary School- 1st Violin/Concert Master; Nathan Hale Jr.High – 1st Trombone)

Sent from my iPhone

Dawn June 13, 2017 at 8:33 am

I’d like to support the music program, but that pales in compartidos to what they are planning to do to our kindergarteners.
Yes, music fosters a greater learning experience for all.
But none of our kids will get there without a successful start to their education.
You may look at kindergarten and say it’s just okay. But it is not. Every child is supposed to be reading at the end of kindergarten. They need foundations of math. They need their socialization skills enhanced.
These things cannon the accomplished with one overworked and exhausted kindergarten teacher.

Christine M. June 13, 2017 at 9:40 am

Just adding my support for the middle and high school music programs. Norwalk’s music program is OUTSTANDING and should be preserved. Sadly, this area is more sports-focused and that’s where the extracurricular attention goes.

Erin E. Herring June 13, 2017 at 9:58 am

Disgusted…that is how this proposed cut to the Middle School Program makes me feel. I am saddened, angered, and in sheer disbelief that this would even be a consideration…AGAIN! I have been a band mom for eight years, (Flute, Piano, Clarinet, Snare, Quads, Percussion) and my heart aches thinking about what this will do the students in Norwalk.
The Middle School music is one of, if not the most important program this city has. The teachers make musicians out of children who may not have ever had an opportunity to learn and appreciate music. How dare they think about removing or reducing funds for this proven, amazing, rewarding program?
Mr. Abrams aptly provided proven statistics about the benefits of the music programs in Norwalk. If you don’t believe it, just walk into the band room at West Rocks, Nathan Hale, Ponus, or Rowayton Middle Schools, Norwalk High School or Brien McMahon High School and you will see plethora of awards these students have worked so very hard to earn. Hours of practice, long drills, days in hot parking lots rehearsing and most of all hours upon hours of making friends, developing a sense of responsibility and self-worth. To make any cuts will be one of the most detrimental actions that could happen to the Norwalk School system. Thousands of students would suddenly have an awful lot of time on their hand and you know what they say about idle hands.
Parents of music students work tirelessly, whether it be for orchestra, band, theatre, color guard or chorus which gives them time to spend with their children they might not otherwise have had and helps make the program what it is today. We put time, effort, love and skill into all of our volunteering, yet you still take away from the students and families who give SO much.
Why is it always the students that suffer? Why is it always the music programs are the first to be eliminated, when the return on the investment is worth so much more? Time after time, cut after cut, and who does it affect??? It is deplorable and irresponsible…shame on all of you who support this. It is time that some of those who work in the education field take a long hard look at how the decisions made on your level negatively affect every student touched by music.
Music keeps these children focused, grounded, teaches discipline, responsibility, punctuality, among other things. Music can’t be learned while texting, snap chatting, face booking or any other form of “social media”. I am imploring you to rethink this cut…don’t make this the year “…The Day Music Died”…

Respectfully yours,
Erin E. Herring

LETS NOT FORGET June 13, 2017 at 10:30 am

Lets not forget about Middle School Intramural Sports being cut also. This program helps kids participate in sports against the other schools and does not cost the students a dime. For some students this is a springboard for the High school programs, or is the only sports team they will ever be a part of.

All the cuts are tough, but lets not forget about this one.

Adolph Neaderland June 13, 2017 at 10:48 am

Hostaging our children’s education is draconian and an unwise short-term approach to our nagging fiscal shortfall.

Seems to me that every short term attempt to “fix” our fiscal problems has had unintended consequences.

Big box stores with low wage employees hasn’t worked.

As an opinion, neither will flooding the city with high rise residential units, nor will the modified mall.

A next level of creative, longer range thinking is in order.

I recently attended a musical concert at Rotan Middle school – the kids were outstanding.

Those youngsters exuded “motivation”!

Again, as an opinion, it would be a dereliction of duty to cut music (or any other elective)back.

Missy Conrad June 13, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Recently, in organizing my papers since Jeff & I moved to our third home in Norwalk, I found a headline in The Hour of 11-24-2010, “City Schools Face Deep Cuts.” From the June, 2017, Wilton Neighbors, the featured family “moved from Norwalk when Katie was pregnant…’I was attracted by the reputation of Wilton’s schools.'”
“Separate but (so-called)Equal” has been ruled unequal by our US Supreme Court. And, even within Norwalk, some parents’ organizations can raise more $ for their own school. Now is past the time to petition our federal government to send back to the states a just amount of funding for education. Former US Senator Patrick Monyihan pointed out the “War on Poverty” was never won b/c we did not allocate enough resources for winning.
This coming June 15, over 123 countries of the United Nations are beginning a Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading towards their Total Elimination. Our United States of America once again will not discuss this & is boycotting the conference, along with the other nuclear-armed states. Even retaliation, which would only make much worse the destruction of our one, beautiful Earth, is not a good reason to waste our $ on these idolatrous weapons. Join us Quakers/Friends & Others for a prayer vigil every morning at 8-8:30 am on the East Ave sidewalk by Norwalk City Hall for a prayer vigil that coincides with one in NYC at the Isaiah Wall by the United Nations, weekdays till July 7, except Mon, June 26, founding of the United Nations; Tues, July 4, our nation’s Birthday).

Laura Lamorte June 13, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Withdrawal of funding for the middle schools’ music programs will drive more families with children out of Norwalk. Participation in music programs is an invaluable activity and an important skill to cite on college applications for all of the reasons noted in previous Comments. Denying students this educational skill will limit their opportunities for college acceptance and for future employment. My nephew earned a scholarship to help defray his college costs based on his participation as a tuba player in his school band. Rethink your decision. Scapegoating immigrants is a tired excuse and “fake news.”

Steve Colarossi June 13, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Mr. Abrams is right.
Unfortunately, the Board of Education’s Finance Committee, rather than publicly share the cut list and invite public comment, kept it hidden until a consensus had been reached and the public was shut-out of effective comment.
If only the Board of Education’s Finance Committee valued the input of parents and school volunteers like Mr. Abrams, the true cost of their proposed cuts could have been better framed and alternatives considered. Instead, the Finance Committee and its chairperson replaced oversight with obedience. Norwalk’s children, and our democracy, are worse for these poor choices of the Finance Committee.

Isabelle Hargrove June 13, 2017 at 7:53 pm

It is indeed heartbreaking to read about the cuts to the music program. No one should doubt that music education is highly beneficial to children. However, the same letter could be written about cuts to any other programs. In fact, within the last week, I have read outrage at closing the pool or cutting aids in K classes. Everything is beneficial and every program should be protected and funded.

Maybe instead of voicing anger and frustration at the board, we should send these letters and comments to the union leaders who ordered these cuts when they refused to switch healthcare plan with a carbon copy to the teachers who subsequently rewarded them with re-election.

Angel June 13, 2017 at 8:53 pm

Did I mis-read something? I thought only private lessons were being cut, not the actual music program. These private lessons are given before school even starts, am I correct? What exactly is being cut? I don’t know any other district that gives free private lessons on top of their regular in- class instruction. Maybe I misunderstood something??? Some high schools have self funding sports programs. Maybe middle school sports can be run through park and recreation with a small student fee? Just some things to consider? There has to be alternatives.

Lia June 14, 2017 at 11:29 am

Angel,

These are not “private lessons.” These are group lessons where students can learn their instruments with their peers learning the same instruments. For example, all flute students will have group lessons together, because playing the flute is very different from playing the drums. Without these group lessons (again, NOT private lessons), it will be near impossible for the students to actually learn their instruments. Because of this, the level will drop drastically, all the way through to the high school. Though most group lessons are held in school, most teachers also give additional lessons (on their own time) before school. I hope this helps clarify your questions.

angel June 14, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Thanks, Lia, for the info. I was reading the cuts from the BOE and I thought it said middle school private lessons. Just throwing this out there, but during this whole middle school redesign is there a way to get there group lessons in as part of their music curriculum in their schedules during specials rather than have them as pullouts? Again, I have no clue about organization of school structure, but maybe there is a way to redesign the music program so students can get the most out of the music program without hurting Norwalk’s budget?

Lia June 14, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Angel,

You are correct that the BOE called the group lessons private lessons. This is incorrect information and there is miscommunication and misunderstanding about the curriculum. The pull-outs, which are group lessons, are already part of the curriculum. Best, L

Lia June 14, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Also, I can’t imagine that turning 4 full time middle school band programs to part time would solve the budget issues. And I agree that a solution needs to be found, but I believe that they are looking in the wrong area that would greatly impact the students for years to come.

Brian Anderson June 15, 2017 at 9:25 pm

The Board of Ed is grossly incompetent if they think reducing 4 full time middle school band programs, and switching to part time, would solve the budget issues. A solution needs to be found, BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF ANY ARTS FUNDING. What are the largest percentage items on the Norwalk Education budget? I would hazard to say health insurance, ADMINISTRATORS, and Special Education. Please focus on reducing the cost of health care, reducing unnecessary administration, and an imbalanced per student cost for SPED before slashing programs critical to the future success of our city and society like music, which has been gutted for years and should be protected forever at this level and a moratorium put on any possible reduction in the measly funds in our budget related to the arts. It is shameful for the BOE to attack middle school music with what seems to be little understanding of its impact. Boe, you are looking in the wrong area. Stay away from middle school music and all arts spending. This is a warning to all administrators. Retire or get out of the way. One lost administrator who isn’t teaching means 3 or 4 new music teachers to me

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