POCATELLO — After dozens of parents and students voiced concerns about proposed changes to the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 orchestra program during a school board meeting this week, district officials believe they have found a viable solution.
Jan Harwood, the district’s director of secondary education, told the Journal on Wednesday that district officials were able to coordinate scheduling that will allow for certified orchestra instructors to teach all 11 orchestra classes at Pocatello, Century and Highland high schools and at the district’s four middle schools during regular class hours every day of the week and all school year long.
The solution will mean more work for the district’s two full-time and one part-time certified orchestra instructors, who up until now had been receiving help from non-certified orchestra instructors to teach all 11 daily classes.
“After much discussion and schedule shuffling, we did it,” Harwood wrote in an Wednesday email distributed to all parents of students currently enrolled in the district’s orchestra program. “All 11 (daily) sections of orchestra will be taught by a certified orchestra teacher. High school students will have the opportunity to take orchestra in their high school each trimester without the need for travel.
“Ultimately, our orchestra program will grow from elementary to middle school to high school with a clear pathway to the Idaho State-Civic Symphony.”
Initially, School District 25 was faced with a three-fold dilemma involving its orchestra program. Specifically, the district was tasked by orchestra parents with ensuring that every orchestra class was taught by a certified orchestra teacher, that it offered orchestra every trimester every day at the three high schools, and that it nurtured the development of the high school orchestra program by continuing to offer both beginning and intermediate orchestra classes at each middle school.
The district’s orchestra program, which involves three daily high school classes and eight daily middle school classes, currently has more than 400 students enrolled.
The three specific issues surrounding the orchestra program were compounded by scheduling conflicts, considering the district only employs the two full-time and one part-time certified orchestra instructors.
During the current school year, the district was forced to use a special education paraprofessional and a band instructor to each teach one of the 11 orchestra classes. According to parents, the district’s decision to use non-certified orchestra teachers was a mistake.
“The fix that you had this year of using a paraprofessional teaching orchestra at Hawthorne (Middle School) is not ideal, though the individual was qualified to teach a stringed-instrument,” Jenifer Scow, the mother of an Irving Middle School orchestra student, said during Tuesday’s school board meeting at the district’s main office in Pocatello.
Scow said that she attended the sixth grade orchestra holiday concert at one School District 25 middle school and some of the musical selections were performed so poorly that they were not recognizable. She blames this on the lack of a certified orchestra teacher at that school.
Scow said, “They even stood up and told us what piece they were going to play and you couldn’t recognize it. To me, as a parent, I was shocked that this was the fix we have came up with because it clearly did not work.”
Prior to Harwood announcing the district’s orchestra solution on Wednesday, School District 25 orchestra students and parents were upset about district officials’ earlier proposed changes to the orchestra program.
Instead of hosting orchestra classes every day at each of the three high schools, which is the current structure, district officials suggested that only one orchestra class be held at one of the high schools each day. This proposed change would have forced students from the other two high schools to travel every day via their own means to the high school holding the orchestra class. This travel time would have amounted to about 30 minutes per day, cutting into the students’ classes before and after the orchestra class.
Next, district officials suggested that each of the three high schools could keep a daily orchestra class but it would need to be hosted early in the morning before regular school classes began. The district refers to this period of instruction as “zero-hour.”
This plan also drew opposition because it would have prevented students who participate in orchestra from enrolling in other other zero-hour extracurricular activities such as marching band, choir and some athletic programs.
Further, district officials also considered eliminating some of the daily middle school orchestra classes, according to district spokesperson Courtney Fisher.
But none of those plans were eventually adopted.
In the end, Harwood said the district’s solution announced Wednesday — having the existing certified instructors teach all 11 orchestra classes — is one that she believes many parents will support.
“Our intent was to create this pathway (for orchestra students) from the elementary level to middle to high school and eventually to the Idaho State-Civic Symphony. That is our lofty goal,” Harwood said. “We just needed time to think outside of the box and look at that schedule through a couple different lenses.”
While the district’s solution fixes the problem for now, Harwood said it is likely that the district will need to readdress the situation again in the future.
Scow told the Journal on Wednesday that the district’s solution is the best of the options that had been considered, but that it still doesn’t address the long-term problem of providing an adequate number of certified orchestra instructors in order to avoid this experience again.
“I think it is the better of all the options that the district presented to the orchestra teachers but it is still not resolving the number of students that we have and the availability of the facilities to use,” Scow said. “This is a short-term answer to a long-term problem. It’s a band-aid solution.”
Putting the responsibility of teaching all 11 daily orchestra classes at seven different schools on the three certified instructors seems like it might be too much of a workload for them.
“It doesn’t seem like they are interested in finding a long-term solution to this problem,” Scow said about district officials. “Orchestra seems to take a back seat to other arts programs and we want to keep this on the forefront considering we have made so much progress with the program’s success in recent years.”