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June 13, 2013 · By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Middle school music proponents again dominate

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Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Principals and Associate Superintendent Sandra Mitchell (center, right) listen to speakers at Wednesday night’s forum, which drew more than 100 people to Auburn Middle School.
Owen Schefer proposes a “conveyor belt” schedule, with eight classes, seven of which would meet each day.
Judy Olsen supports the change to provide more opportunity for exploration and classes such as keyboarding.
“The academic rigor” creates the need for longer “core” subject classes, says Cedar Lee Principal Steve Parker.
Connor Rogers says he hopes the music program will remain unchanged when he gets to Cedar Lee.
When we talk about taking time away in music, we’re really talking about reducing time to help them learn other subjects.
— Jared Jensen
Public forum
• Topic: Proposed middle school schedule and program changes

• When: Wednesday, June 12

• Where: Auburn Middle School

• Agency: System administrators and principals of Fauquier’s 5 middle schools

• Length: 2 hours and 5 minutes, with 1 hour and 45 minutes devoted to public comments

• Speakers: 34, with 31 against proposal and 3 in favor

• Issues: Potential reduction of class time devoted to music and, for some students, physical education; opportunities for greater student “exploration” and increased time for “core” classes and foreign languages

• Next: Administrators will consider options and work toward recommendation to Superintendent David Jeck by November
For 105 minutes Wednesday night, they continued to make the case for preserving the time Fauquier middle schools devote to music classes.

Thirty-four parents, students and teachers stepped to the microphone during a public forum at Auburn Middle School.

All but three speakers opposed cutting music class time, as a suggested schedule change would do. (Proposal embedded at bottom of story.)

Administrators and middle school principals conducted the forum after opponents this spring won postponement of the change.

The proposal calls for increasing 50-minute “core” class time by 12 to 16 minutes and increasing opportunities for “exploratory” classes. It would cut music classes to every other day and reduce physical education for students in those band, chorus and orchestra courses.

Wednesday’s event gave those interested an opportunity to exchange ideas and to share their opinions. At least four speakers presented detailed alternatives to the schedule administrators developed.

Owen Schefer suggested a “conveyor belt” schedule of eight classes, with only seven meeting each day.

One class would drop off and one would rejoin the schedule each day, explained Mr. Schefer, who attended middle school under such a system in Fairfax County.

“If you did that, you could keep the classes at 50 minutes,” provide five minutes between periods and meet everyone’s goals, he said.

Many speakers challenged the idea of longer classes.

“How long is the attention span of an adult who has a fully formed frontal lobe? Fifty minutes,” said Brooke Anne McDowall, a band student who just graduated from Kettle Run High School.

“In middle school, I felt teachers couldn’t use the time they had,” Ms. McDowall added.

She predicted classrooms full of hyperactive “11-year-olds,” if periods get extended. “Give (teachers) the tools to use the time they have now.”

Several speakers said their children have no homework or that homework gets done during regular class time.

Others stressed the benefits of music in developing creativity, teamwork and serenity.

“The young mind develops learning music,” said Jared Jenson, an electrical engineer. “It’s like learning a language” for young students. Then, music becomes a mathematics skill builder.

“When we talk about taking time away in music, we’re really talking about reducing time to help them learn other subjects,” Mr. Jenson said. “Fifty minutes is perfectly sufficient” for classes.

“I don’t want to see the music program at Kettle Run suffer,” said Jenny Hunter, whose son Nate just finished his freshman year there.

Her son struggles to remain focused in other classes. Ms. Hunter said. “Music has opened so many doors for him and the whole family . . . . In my opinion, Nate’s schedule in (Auburn) middle school was ideal.”

She prefers “a few classes of excellence, rather than many classes of mediocrity.”

Talking about the importance of music to her elementary school son, Tammy Rogers said: “I still don’t know what drives this, but I don’t know everything.”

Mrs. Rogers challenged administrators “to find the right way” to balance the competing goals and desires.

But, Judy Olsen, who chairs the countywide school support council, said the proposed change makes sense.

Her daughter, a sophomore at Fauquier High, didn’t take keyboarding in middle school, which the schedule change would require, Ms. Olsen noted. “I can type circles around her . . . . And, I have to type some of her papers.

“She’s getting very little opportunity at the high school level to explore . . . . Maybe in the second semester of her senior year, she can take an art class.”

Warrenton Middle School art teacher Marisa Pappas agreed.

“I feel it is very important for children to have a chance (in middle school) to experience the arts before making a decision” to focus on an interest, Ms. Pappas said. “We do live in a very visual world.”

She explained the math and problem-solving skills her students have developed in the visual arts.

“It’s very important that students have the capability of talking both art and music,” Ms. Pappas added.

Taylor Middle School business teacher Eva Fresa said: “We need to even out and widen those courses, so students can make better choices in high school . . . .

“Music and (physical education) are very important. We’re not trying to push them away; we’re trying to even them out,” said Ms. Fresa, supporting more opportunities for exploration. “Let’s let these kids see what it’s all about in middle school and become proficient in high school.”

Roger Miller, a Kettle Run parent whose online petition against the changes drew 1,000 “signatures,” asked if Fauquier has a “broken” or “inequitable” middle school system?

“It is not all about equity,” Cedar Lee Principal Steve Parker responded. Each of the five schools has “evolved, based on the needs of its community . . . .

“The academic rigor has increased so much, we can’t possibly get it done in 50 minutes,” Mr. Parker explained.

Associate Superintendent for Instruction Sandra Mitchell said evaluation of the middle school schedule started four years ago.

Educators must balance state requirements with “what will distinguish Fauquier,” Dr. Mitchell said.

“It’s healthy that we ask whether we can do things better,” she added.

Administrators will continue their evaluation, weighing input from Wednesday’s forum, written comments and other information, including a recent poll of middle school teachers, Dr. Mitchell said.

She hopes to make a recommendation on the middle school schedule to Superintendent David Jeck by November.

Technically, a change would not require school board approval.

But, while serving as interim superintendent in April, Dr. Mitchell said she intended to ask the board for a vote on the proposed changes.

Middle School Program Proposal 4-08-13 by Fauquier Now


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