School board approves staffing increase to expand music program

By: Alex Tekip | Advertiser Times | Published June 1, 2016

Photo by Edward Osinski

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HARPER WOODS — Students and teachers in all grades in the Harper Woods school district could soon hear more melodies echoing through the hallways.

The reason for more melodies? An increase in educators to teach the tunes.

On May 17, the Harper Woods Board of Education voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve increased staffing for a proposed expanded music program that would begin in the 2016-17 school year. 

The proposed music curriculum entails creating a general music program for kindergarten through sixth grade to introduce students to music. Students would listen to music, learn music history, play simple instruments and have opportunities to sing in a chorus. 

Band wouldn’t differ from how it’s taught currently: Students would start in fifth grade and have the option to continue through 12th grade. The district currently does not offer vocal music as a class, but it would as part of the new curriculum.   

The proposed music program would allow students to choose between an instrumental or vocal music track beginning in fifth grade. It would give students who moved into Harper Woods from another school district an opportunity to enroll in introductory-level music classes at any grade, so they would have the opportunity to join a band or choir with little prior experience.

There currently is one full-time music teacher in the Harper Woods school district: Shannon Rogers, who teaches at Tyrone Elementary and the middle and high schools. The board’s approval on May 17 means the district can proceed in hiring an additional full-time music educator, as well as a part-time educator focused on vocal music.

“We would be creating a full-time position down at the elementaries, K-six, for the general program, and then an instructor teaching from fifth grade all the way up through 12th grade, and then an additional half-time vocal coach program. They would do vocal, choral, music theory, music appreciation for the middle school through high school, broken down,” said Assistant Superintendent David Rabbideau in a presentation to school board members May 17. “That would represent the music department, essentially, going from one member to two and a half members.”

Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said the school board’s approval of the increased staffing level for the proposed music program gives the school district time to build its schedule and market the new opportunities to students in the last few weeks of school, post and recruit for the full-time and part-time teaching positions, and consider anticipated costs in budget recommendations for the 2016-17 school year. 

The proposed music curriculum is estimated to be a $150,000 investment, $100,000 of which is projected for staffing costs. 

Board of Education Secretary Jill Quarker noted during the meeting that while other districts are cutting costs in art and music, Harper Woods is expanding its programs.

Rabbideau said this didn’t come without sacrifice.

“We’re in solid financial position and that came from a lot of sacrifices from all the adults in the district,” he said. “We went through concessions and contracts four or five years ago, and because we are now good with our money, we can still do this and at least (be) very confident that the next three or four years, barring some unforeseen statewide tragedy in financials, we’re going to be fine.”

The Harper Woods school district’s musical offerings have been limited to just band starting in the fifth grade and continuing through 12th grade for over a decade.

Rogers, who has been in the district for 16 years, said the proposed music curriculum targeting kindergarteners through high school seniors is a welcome change.

“It’s something that I’ve been hoping for for years, and I’m glad that they’re finally going to do it,” she said. “Our goal is to have music K-12 in our district, which we have not for as long as I’ve been here.”

Prior to his career in education, Rabbideau was a professional musician. He came to the Harper Woods district as a music teacher around the time the program underwent significant budget cuts.

Rabbideau said it’s clear that students in the district want to be involved in music, as indicated by past concerts and special programs, such as one on African-American history in February. He also noted that numerous studies show music is beneficial to a child’s education, as music uses math, reading, science and more all at once.

“Kids want to be a part of music in some way in this district, and that’s really the biggest benefit is it gives them some way to connect to the district other than just attending the classes,” said Rabbideau.

Rogers agreed, citing studies showing the positive impact of music on education and saying that a break from the rigorous academic work stressed in today’s school systems is necessary for students to express their creativity. 

“(Students) need some sort of outlet to just get free from those academics constantly,” she said.

Rogers said the school district’s investment in a new music program — and the funding and resources to make it happen — shows it values its students.

“It says that (the district) understand(s) the importance of music, and they want to make sure all students have access to that,” she said.

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