District 203 administrators sound a positive note on music curriculum changes, but questions linger     

sheet music and piano keys
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This past fall, Naperville School District 203 officials introduced changes to the requirements high school students had to satisfy to enroll in music courses. The adjustments were not without controversy, and administrators recently gave an update on the outcome.

A year ago, as planning on the current 2023-24 school year was in full swing, administrators sought approval from the board of education to add a co-curricular component to band, orchestra and choir programs at Naperville North and Central high schools.

At its core, the changes mean high schoolers pursing music as an extracurricular activity have to enroll in a concurrent course during the school day as well. The added requirement comes in response to staffing challenges and declining enrollment in traditional music instruction during the regular school day.

There have been opponents, as evidenced by the narrow 4-3 vote cast last winter to move forward with the change. The broader community also gave mixed commentary, with concerns of large numbers of students dropping courses raised as a possibility as options within the limited real estate of a class schedule were weighed.

‘Many benefits to our changes’  

Chala Holland, assistant superintendent of administrative services, provided the board of education with a progress report of the revised music curriculum format at a meeting Monday, April 1. Holland said the information she was sharing was based on data and anecdotal findings from this past fall.

“So far, we believe that there are many benefits to our changes,” Holland said. “The plan takes steps toward prioritizing skill development and growth, which we’re starting to see.”

In particular, Holland said high schoolers who have opted to continue music instruction have sharpened their skills in technique. Overall, she said the revised standards have provided teachers and students with a clearer set of expectations.

“Students who do not currently have access to tutors and other forms of skill development can access the technique courses throughout the day, which was something they were not able to do in the past,” she said.

While there is a degree of rigidity to the new standards, Holland in her presentation to the board said the changes introduced this school year also have flexibility.

“Our teachers have found creative solutions for our students … and work with the students to determine the best schedule for their technique experience,” she said. “Technique is structured to provide opportunities to work on specific skills that have been identified to support their growth.”

Nearly 100 students dropped music after curriculum changes  

Data collection related to the changes is ongoing, Holland said. For this reason, she is asking to stay the course for the upcoming 2024-25 school year with the same sets of standards in place.

When the board cast its divided vote a year ago, it was done with the caveat it would be implemented on a trial one-year basis and then be revisited for potential further modifications.

Student enrollment was one piece of data Holland shared with the board at the recent meeting. Between the two high schools, nearly 100 students enrolled in either the curricular or extracurricular component of band, orchestra or choir a year ago dropped the courses this school year.

Holland said this decline is on par with statistical data from prior years.

Board concerns remain 

Board member Donna Wandke, who cast one of the three dissenting votes a year ago, said she remains concerned about the changes, particularly in light of the enrollment data.

“I didn’t dig through each year, but a difference of a hundred students is a lot of students, from one year to the next,” Wandke said. “That’s statistically significant somewhere.”

Board member Charles Cush, who had also cast a “no” vote last year, implored Holland and other administrators to gather input from the students who dropped music courses this school year.

“We could get an understanding of what their reasons and rationales were,” Cush said. “I don’t expect we’ll track this forever, but in the short-term, as we’re going through this transitionary period, it would be good to understand it better.”

Holland said further updates will be provided to the board, particularly after a full year’s worth of data is available.

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