District 203 considering changes to its high school music programs

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Faced with several challenges, Naperville School District 203 officials are changing their tune on instructional requirements for students pursuing music at Naperville North and Naperville Central high schools.

Since the fall of 2015, there has been no curricular requirement for District 203 high schoolers who wish to pursue musically related extra-curricular activities.

But faced with a litany of obstacles, including enrollment declines and staffing constraints, District 203 officials are considering changes to the existing model of instruction that would reinstate a course requirement during the instructional day.

Enrollment in curricular high school music programs nearly halved

According to data shared at a school board meeting Monday, enrollment in District 203’s curricular music programs has fluctuated over the years, but today is nearly half of what it was in the 2014-15 school year.

Enrollment in curricular music programs during the instructional day was at 472 students that particular year. In the current school year, a total of 265 District 203 high schoolers are enrolled in a curricular music course.

Extra-curricular enrollment in music programs at the two high schools also has been in decline since the sample 2014-15 school year, though the drop has not been as steady. In the fall of 2014, 286 high schoolers were enrolled in an extra-curricular music program. Today, 250 students take part in such an offering.

Changes may be piloted in the 2023-2024 school year

District 203 administrators are asking for the school board’s approval to tweak the requirements for high schoolers pursuing band, orchestra and choir in the fall and beyond. The potential changes, which could be voted on at the board’s next meeting Jan. 23, would begin with a pilot test year to gauge effectiveness.

Based on the current proposal, beginning this fall, all students enrolled in a curricular performance music course will be also be assigned a music technique course as a part of District 203’s concurrent enrollment requirement.

Additionally, students participating in extracurricular performance ensembles will have to satisfy a concurrent enrollment requirement by being assigned to a lunchtime music technique course.

Chala Holland, assistant superintendent for administrative services at the high school level, said the pair of recommendations arose after an in-depth review of current practices and a look at the staffing and enrollment concerns that have driven the conversation.

“We decided to shift our focus for next year, recognizing where we are right now,” Holland said.

Students sound off

While high school music teachers and District 203 administrators are imploring the board to make changes, some of the current students at both high schools have expressed concerns and reservations about the plans in motion, as evidenced by a small handful who spoke to the board at Monday’s meeting.

Athena Chen, a junior at Central, began taking orchestra in middle school and said she has been able to continue exploring her love of music, while dually delving into a pathway she would like to pursue — entrepreneurship — thanks to the flexible model that has been in place.

“My main concern is how this lines up for students with other career goals,” Chen said of the structural changes proposed.

Nolan Shen, who also attends Central as a junior, implored the board to take students’ concerns into account before any firm policy changes are implemented.

“If you decide to continue to work on this plan, I really hope that students are consulted throughout the whole process, as this will affect us and future generations of student musicians, more than anyone else,” Shen said.

During the preliminary conversation at Monday’s meeting, several board members said they were amenable to making changes, so long as they are subject to revision and tailored in a way that gives some leeway to current students.

“The student comments … have been really important to take into consideration,” board member Amanda McMillen said. “I know how hard it is to juggle all of the opportunities we want to offer in this district.”

For Naperville News 17, Dave Fidlin reports.

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