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Music to their ears: After avoiding budget cuts, schools’ programs thriving

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 12:01 am

Last year, when Franklin schools decided to leave 15 teaching positions unfilled and to cut another three, schools didn’t end their music programs.

Franklin schools has to cut an average of $3.5 million in spending per year for the next decade because of property tax caps, which limit the amount of money governments collect to pay their bills.

About 150 fewer students are attending Greenwood schools compared with last year, meaning the school district has less money to pay for teachers’ salaries and benefits.

But neither school district is considering cutting music programs.

State lawmakers are considering a proposal requiring schools to keep music courses as a part of the curriculum. Most local school districts already provide music lessons for early elementary students, and band, choir and other groups for students at intermediate, middle and high schools. If approved, the bill would protect those programs.

Local school officials want to support students interested in music since that passion can help them in core subjects such as math and language arts.

“If those kids are having meaningful learning experiences, that’s where you see that growth,” said John Schilawski, Clark-Pleasant assistant superintendent and Indiana State School Music Association board member.

“Those kids are excited and passionate about participating when they first get to join choir or pick up that instrument for the first time.”

At Franklin, more students in Grades 5 through 12 are enrolling or staying in choir, band and other music programs. This school year about 75 percent of students from the previous school year returned to band programs at the middle school and high school, which is an improvement over the typical return rate of 50 percent, Superintendent David Clendening said.

As students realize that hours practicing can help them master a piece of music, they can apply that discipline to math, language arts and other core subjects, school officials said.

“Our momentum is to expand those programs, not contract them,”

Greenwood Assistant Superintendent of Learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

Many students, whether they’re starting to play the saxophone or learning algebra, can get frustrated if they don’t think they’re doing well. Students who have spent months or years learning instruments know that it takes time to develop skills, and they’re more likely to stick with math or other subjects even if they struggle initially, Ahlgrim said.

Clark-Pleasant has been expanding its music programs, partly because more students in middle and high school are participating in band and choir. At Whiteland Community High School, more students also want careers in the music industry after graduation, not just as musicians but also in marketing, technology and sound. School officials want to better prepare students for those careers, Schilawski said.

“What we’ve begun to find is that as our music program has grown, it’s becoming a college and career readiness potential,” Schilawski said.

This year Whiteland added an Advanced Placement, college-level music theory course students can take their junior year. Music theory was one of several Advanced Placement courses added this year, and juniors or seniors who take the class will have a better chance of marketing themselves to music programs at colleges or for internships and jobs, Schilawski said.

Clark-Pleasant could have hired a teacher for math, language arts or another core subject, but juniors who have never taken a college-level course before may go on to other Advanced Placement courses after they know they can handle them, Schilawski said.

While school officials don’t want class sizes to get larger than 25 to 30 students, they also have to add teachers to instruct the courses that students are interested in.

At Whiteland, that includes music, Schilawski said.

“You can always use more staff lowering class sizes in core classes,”

Schilawski said. “But are you meeting the needs of students?”