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The Jaffrey-Rindge music program is important

An open letter to Mr. James O’Neill, superintendent of Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District:

It is tragic, after the music program has been decimated by the move to block scheduling several years ago, that now that the district is finally moving away from the block schedule, the music program is not being given the opportunity to rebuild, but being cut even further. This is made even more devastating when you consider the fact that the middle school music program has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two years, and there is a large pool of students moving into the high school who wish to continue and build on their musical experiences and talents. They are being denied this opportunity by the reduction of course offerings.

My daughter, Rachel, came home today asking about the possibility of transferring to another school district, because she doesn’t want to go to a school without a quality music program. It is her intention to continue her musical education and she is seriously considering becoming a music teacher herself in the future. She was greatly looking forward to going to Conant and working with Mr. Holmes, for whom she has great respect due to the experiences of her brother, Paul, with him at Conant. She does not wish to leave her friends, with whom she has spent her entire life at school, but I can certainly understand her reluctance to continue at a school which is not working to ensure that they nurture the talents of all students.

On the school district’s website, the second item listed under the district’s beliefs about learning is: “Students deserve curricular opportunities that recognize their talents.” These cuts do not show that the school is living up to these beliefs. Many of Rachel’s friends tried to go to guidance to sign up for Music Appreciation, because they truly have an interest, and to show that there is a demand for the courses that will be lost due to this reduction in staff, and were told they would not be allowed to sign up for the course, even though it was listed in the program of studies for next year. Other music courses could be offered — as I’m sure others were in the past, before Conant went to a block schedule. Music Theory, Composition, Jazz Band, Swing Choir, Guitar Lessons, Wind Orchestra — the list goes on.

With as many students coming up from the middle school who are involved in music, it is very likely that there would be an adequate number of students to have more than one band and/or chorus, at different ability levels, again providing opportunities for each student to be challenged and achieve success, not to mention adding more flexibility to scheduling, allowing even more students who may wish to participate in music to do so. Please don’t deny the children of this community the opportunities to grow and learn by cutting off the music program at the very moment when it finally has the chance to rebuild and strengthen to its former glory.

There were days not so long ago when the Conant band was very active and recognized as a quality performance group, especially for such a small community. These are the kinds of programs that can bring positive recognition to our children, our schools and our towns. How much money is being “saved” by cutting half a teaching position? Will you even be able to find a quality teacher who can afford to work only part-time? How much money will the district lose if your best, most actively involved students flee to other schools which support their talents with quality programs? Research shows that schools with quality music programs have higher student performance levels. I’m sure if you check student records, you are likely to see a very high correlation between your strongest students and those who participate in the music programs.

My daughter is not the only one amongst her friends who is already talking about looking into alternative school placements if the music program is reduced. How can Jaffrey-Rindge be “one of the 10 best school districts in New Hampshire” by doing things that drive away the best students?

Please, do not destroy the music program by making these cuts. Offer our students more and different classes, and give the teachers the opportunity to rebuild the program. This can only serve to improve our district and the education of our children.

Christina Lee Ricard lives in Jaffrey.

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