POINT PLEASANT — There was standing room only at Tuesday’s meeting of the Mason County Board of Education meeting when concerned band and choir students and parents made their way into the crowded meeting room to voice their opinions on changes to their programs.
A common concern among several students and parents was the idea of taking the high school band directors who also teach at the elementary schools and only having them teach at the high school level. Students were concerned of not having the continuity they have now, some of whom said the reason they were involved with band at the high school level was because they already knew the instructor. Through this lack of continuity, students said membership numbers would decrease because students wouldn’t want to join if they weren’t familiar with the director.
Along with this concern, parents spoke regarding who would take the high school director’s place at the elementary schools, saying they had been told of the possibility of having other retired instructors and possibly other music students from colleges coming in to teach who weren’t certified.
“If they are not certified, how can they teach my child?” one parent asked. Other questions of funding theses other instructors were also brought up.
Another concern brought up by students was the idea of a pay cut for the band directors, saying by enacting a pay cut the directors would not be able to spend the proper amount of time with the students, which in turn would cause their subsequent performances to be at a lower level, which would as well decrease the amount of students who would want to be involved.
In addition to current students, several former students who have moved on to pursue music related fields in college voiced their opinions to the board, saying the current music programs available at Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School had not prepared them for college because additional classes, such as music theory and composition classes, were not offered.
Choir Director Alyssa Russell also read a letter from local American Idol contestant Chase Likens which expressed his support for the current music programs and the directors, but also said the current programs do not offer the needed opportunities for students who want to pursue other music related fields.
Board President Tom Nunnery said this item regarding the music programs was specifically put on the agenda for this reason, so the board could get feedback and other ideas from the students affected by these changes and their parents. Superintendent Suzanne Dickens also stated several times throughout the meeting that she is also a lover of the arts and would never do anything to hurt their programs.
Following an adjournment into executive session where Dickens further explained and discussed the changes, Nunnery said the board was unanimously behind her, and they believe the changes will help the programs expand in the coming years. Nunnery also noted the students’ and parents’ thoughts and concerns did inform the board and said there were some changes made during their executive session discussion.
“We wouldn’t do anything to harm the band and music programs,” Nunnery said.
Also following the executive session, Dickens explained some of the changes in store for the music program saying there would not be any pay cuts for any of the directors and most will actually see a pay increase. She also discussed a recent meeting she had held with the various music directors and their representatives and discussed the different inequities in their various contracts. Dickens continued, saying they will be working with all of the directors to have equitable contracts and opportunities for their respective programs.
Dickens also discussed the high school directors and the hiring of other instructors for the elementary schools, saying she wanted to have the high school directors help oversee the entire program and the secondary band directors would help coordinate the programs at the elementary schools. Dickens also said any additional instructors hired to teach will be certified.
Dickens further explained the reasons for the changes regarding instructors, saying by having additional instructors it will allow music programs to be offered at the elementary schools more during the week and even the possibility of including fourth grade students. In addition, since the high school directors will not be splitting their time between schools, it will allow them to offer other music related classes at the high schools, like music theory and composition.
Board members also expressed their appreciation for the students who spoke on the love of their programs and their “band and choir families.” Board member Greg Fowler commended the students on how passionate and well-spoken they were and said it showed what kind of students Mason County Schools is producing.
“We’re going to change for the better,” Fowler said on the program changes. He continued, saying the music programs are just as important as any of the sports programs.
In addition to Superintendent Dickens, Nunnery, and Fowler, board members present were Randy Searls, Paul Sayre and Dale Shobe.
The Mason County Board of Education will meet again at 6 p.m. on Feb. 12, at the Mason County Career Center.
(Note: More on this meeting will appear in a later edition of the Point Pleasant Register.)