COLUMBIA — After hearing several people speak out against a proposed band curriculum change at its Oct. 12 meeting, the Columbia School Board sent fine arts coordinator Deborah Jacobs and her program evaluation committee back to the drawing board.
The revision would remove marching band from the eighth- and ninth-grade curriculum beginning next fall, allowing instructors to spend more time teaching instrumental skills in a concert band setting.
What: Forum for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and their parents on whether to remove marching band from junior high school curriculum.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cafeteria B, West Junior High School, 401 Clinkscales Road
Schoolhouse Talk: Whether marching band should be taught at the middle or junior high school level is an old issue. In a 1990 article in the Music Educator's Journal, music educators from across the country gave their pro and con views using much of the same language as parents and educators today.
This would mean that for three years, or until a new high school is built and open for instruction of grades 9 through 12, ninth-graders would not be able to participate in marching band.
Jacobs first presented her committee’s proposed changes to the board at its Sept. 24 work session. She cited research concluding there is no musical justification for offering marching band at the intermediate/junior high school level.
Per the board’s request, Jacobs and her committee are seeking additional parent input on the issue. However, Jacobs said all parents of band students in sixth-through 12th-grade are invited to attend.
“We’ve targeted the sixth- through eighth-grade parents because they are affected by the change,” Jacobs said. “But all are welcome — it’s an open forum.” Parents who attend will also be asked to complete a survey.
The board's next meeting is Nov. 9. Jacobs said she plans to communicate her committee’s findings to the board by Nov. 2 via e-mail or personal contact.
Joy Piazza, parent of a ninth-grade trombone player at West Junior High, is concerned ninth-graders are not being properly identified as high school students and given all of the same opportunities as the 10th- through 12-graders.
“You’ll see people using the terms junior high to include ninth-graders,” Piazza said. “The board encourages them to think about ninth-graders differently, but they (those discussing band curriculum) have a hard time doing that.”
Jacobs said even though ninth-graders are taking classes for high school credit, they must be considered junior high school students because they are being taught in a junior high building.
“I totally understand their concern with the ninth-graders being high school students,” she said.
Currently, ninth-grade athletes are allowed to participate in high school sports and transportation is provided. Piazza said music students should be afforded the same opportunity.
“I agree with them,” board member Karla DeSpain said. “If we’re going to do it for sports, we need to do it for other activities as well.”
School Board President Jan Mees realizes the difficulty schools would face in allowing ninth-grade students to march at the high schools. “With the band it’s a little tricky,” Mees said, “because being a part of the band is being a part of the curriculum.”
Mees and Jacobs both pointed out that Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools incorporate band into students’ daily schedules differently. During marching season, both bands start practice before school, but Rock Bridge students continue practicing into their first block of class. At Hickman, students are split into two classes, first and second hour, because of classroom space.
If scheduling weren't an issue, allowing ninth-graders to march in the high school bands would still create a transportation conundrum because Jefferson, Oakland and West junior high schools all send students to both high schools, Jacobs said.
Curriculum development and revision does not happen over a short time. Sally Beth Lyon, chief academic officer, explained at the work session that it is a six-year process.
In the fall of 2007, band program evaluations began. Marty Hook was serving as fine arts coordinator at the time. The committee looked at what was working with the band curriculum and what wasn’t and backed those findings with research. Most of the secondary band faculty, an MU music professor and some high school parents were involved in that process, Jacobs said.
Last fall, the curriculum rewrites began, and Jacobs served as fine arts coordinator. Steve Mathews, band director at Rock Bridge; Tom Sweeney, band director at West Junior High School; and Judy LeFevre, band director at Gentry Middle School, assisted Jacobs and Rob Nichols, instrumental music coordinator and band director at Hickman, with the revisions.
DeSpain thinks the committee should have involved parents of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders sooner because those students will be affected by the change. “I don’t think they reached down far enough,” she said. Piazza also expressed discontent with the lack of middle and junior high school parent discussion throughout the process.
Because the new high school will include ninth-graders and start to reorganize the grade configuration of Columbia Public Schools, any change in the way ninth-grade marching is run would be a temporary fix.
"The root of this problem is not about music," Piazza said. "It's about not having that third high school building. I'm hoping this is yet again another sense of pressure on the community to fund that high school so we can alleviate these kinds of issues."
Mees is confident the committee will re-evaluate its recommendation and make the best decision it can with input gathered from parents. It's ultimately up to the board whether to accept the revisions as they are presented or not.
“I realize change doesn’t come easily,” Mees said. “But it comes at the recommendation of educators who have done the research.”