Narrow board vote means changes to District 203’s high school music program

file image of sheet music sitting atop piano keys
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After hours of deliberation, spanning three consecutive meetings, Naperville School District 203’s board of education has narrowly voted to move forward on changes to high school music course requirements in the 2023-24 school year.

Co-curricular component added

Mirroring sentiments shared by community members and students, board members were split on a proposal from administrators to add a co-curricular component to band, orchestra and choir programs at Naperville North and Naperville Central high schools.

At its core, the changes ahead mean high schoolers pursuing music as an extracurricular activity will 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.

Chala Holland, assistant superintendent for administrative services at the high school level, said the changes ahead were not done in haste and were the culmination of extensive review.

“Our proposed plan supports us in addressing challenges in our current ability to provide high quality individualized instruction, as outlined in state and national standards in music education,” Holland said.

Board’s vote was 4-3 in support of moving ahead with changes

Holland and other District 203 staffers initially went before the month last month to discuss their proposal. In the meetings since, board members have offered varied viewpoints on the changes. When it came to casting a final vote at Monday’s meeting, four “yes” votes and three “no” votes were tallied.

Board President Kristin Fitzgerald was among the supporters of the change, as were board members Tony Casey, Kristine Gericke and Amanda McMillen.

Dissenters included board members Charles Cush, Joseph Kozminski and Donna Wandke.

Cush said he had a number of concerns, including the ripple effect the changes could have on students with busy course schedules.

“I understand that our job is to take in expertise, etc.,” Cush said. “Another part of our job, though, is to listen to members of the community. I know that I received several emails that had a different perspective than, ‘Oh yeah, the recommendation from the administration is perfect.”

A one-year trial run, with further tweaks possible

District 203 administrators said the changes ahead for the music program only impact the upcoming school year. Further adjustments for the 2024-25 school year and beyond could be implemented after fall enrollment is reviewed.

McMillen said the trial run of the new co-curricular requirement is the latest example of District 203 testing the waters before diving in and making deeper changes to curriculum. She cited this approach as a reason behind her affirmative vote.

“We’ve proceeded with some, we’ve pumped the brakes on some, we’ve said, ‘No, this wasn’t what we were hoping to have,’” McMillen said of prior trial and pilot initiatives across the district. “I have to trust that process.”

Students, parents and community weigh in

District 203 administrators and board members reportedly have been receiving much feedback from students, parents and community members on both sides of the issue. Some of these varied views have been on display during the public comment portion of recent meetings.

Tyler Bresnick, a senior at Naperville North, said he believes the changes ahead will have a positive impact on high school music programs. Bresnick has been a part of North’s wind and jazz ensembles, as well as marching band.

“In marching band, we wasted countless hours each week standing on the track, addressing music concerns, when we only get a limited amount of time at the stadium,” Bresnick said at Monday’s meeting. “Lunch technique courses could target students and give them additional support so that our time could be better used.”

But parent Robyn Albertini offered a different viewpoint and suggested further review before a final vote was cast.

“I’m afraid (the changes) could actually alienate more students than it helps,” Albertini said. “I’d like to implore the district to take a step back and think through what the barriers are to enrollment in the high school curriculum program.”

For Naperville News 17, Dave Fidlin reports.

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