The practicalities of practice

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    This letter was sent to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

    Since my arrival to John Adams Middle School in 1995, the instrumental music program has grown from 280 students to a current enrollment of 360. Just this week, a new orchestra was created to alleviate the over-crowded enrollment in our Symphony Orchestra (75 students) as well as to serve the needs of the individual students who perform at various levels of experience. My teaching assignment for the past two years has been 1.2 FTE, accompanied with a 6-hour/day instructional aide position which has been filled with music majors and graduate students from UCLA. This year, an additional .4 FTE was allocated by Jerry Kantor (I’m so grateful to him) and that position has been shared by Kevin McKeown and Brian Hamilton, both master’s degree candidates in conducting at UCLA. Needless to say, the presence of certificated staff members is highly critical and imperative to the success and soundness of the John Adams music program for the following reasons:

    1. Safety. Should an emergency arise, one teacher cannot properly oversee the safety and security of 75, 85, or 94 students in a single class (current Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band, Symphonic Band class enrollments, respectively.) With another adult in the classroom, an unexpected circumstance can be supervised more manageably. (What if something were to happen to me during an emergency?)

    2. Rehearsal Efficiency. Within the block schedule, a 90-minute rehearsal can be structured in a very efficient and effective manner for the students. Presently, Kevin and Brian each take half of the two largest band classes into the auditorium for 45 minutes, working on specific homogeneous techniques while I rehearse the other half in the music room. Then the two halves reunite for a combined rehearsal, incorporating the techniques just practiced. Young students appreciate and greatly benefit from the smaller, more individualized sectionals where they are able to work on specific problems.

    3. Individual Attention. During rehearsals, students occasionally require medical attention (nurse referrals); in addition, random mechanical mishaps frequently occur with specific instruments. Students can discreetly ask the music aides for assistance without disturbing the teacher, and consequently, the rehearsal can continue without disrupting the ensemble.

    4. Rehearsal Preparation. Before each and every rehearsal, much preparation and planning is required for a successful class. The coping, filing and general paperwork is overwhelming for a subject area that does not utilize textbooks or preprinted manuals/booklets. Many of the music repertoire is out of print, and the preservation of the literature can only be maintained via Xeroxing. Without additional staff members, one teacher assigned to 360 students would drown in the paperwork generated for the upkeep of the program. (Also, when would this teacher have the time to do lesson plans, grade papers, hold parent conferences, complete report cards, return messages, etc.?)

    5. Fiscal Efficiency. Currently, there are nearly 600 students enrolled in a John Adams band, orchestra, or choir and the present teaching percentages total 2.6 FTE (Woo – 1.2, Blanchard – 1.0, McKeown – .2, Hamilton – .2). If those 600 students were enrolled in any other department, wouldn’t the district hire at least 5 or 6 teachers to teach those students? (600 divided by 5 class periods with an average class size of 25.)

    In addition, three of the four feeder elementary schools to John Adams are Title I schools, meaning that there are many families at JAMS who cannot afford private instruction, which means that the individualized and small group instruction provided by the music aides is essential if students are to succeed and not become discouraged and quit.

    I would be happy to offer any clarification should it be necessary. I know that the task of reducing the district’s financial deficit is terribly daunting, but I am very hopeful that you will continue to keep the students’ educational well-being in the forefront of your arguments and decisions. Please do not eliminate the middle school music aides (Item #51 – 2000/2001 Budget Reductions List [Level II]).

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Angela Woo

    director, Instrumental Music

    John Adams Middle School