Beaverton School District Board Meeting Testimony by Laurel Bookhardt August 27, 2012

Beaverton School District Board Meeting Testimony by Laurel Bookhardt        August 27, 2012

Why not have a gallbladder surgeon perform triple bypass surgery?  Both physicians are MDs.  In fact, both are surgeons.  Let’s take it down a notch and just ask the gallbladder surgeon to teach an upper division class on heart surgery.  Would that be acceptable?

This example may seem extreme, but it’s quite analogous to what is now happening in our high school music programs. Oregon State policy does not discern between certified music teachers specializing in instrumental performance versus vocal performance.  Yes, the language of state policy is broad.  It must allow flexibility for the needs of about 200 school districts large and small.  In Beaverton we have and can do better.

The fall out of the budget crisis and spending decisions this year has been devastating to music programs at Beaverton high schools.  By cutting high school music positions to part time, and defaulting to state policy, we have allowed for specialized training among our music teachers to be eliminated.
Let me speak directly to the situation at Aloha High School where in the past we’ve had a full time choral music specialist and a full time instrumental specialist.  This year we’ve been cut to .6 choir and .4 band positions and the Human Resources department has selected the same individual to teach both choir and band.  I understand that some other high schools are sharing choral specialists for choir and instrumental specialists for band.  While the programs are greatly scaled back, this arrangement keeps the integrity of music education.

But this is not the arrangement at Aloha High School.  Please do not let this crisis situation produce a new precedent which will further degrade our district music programs.  Instead let it sound the alarm that we need to institute new policy at the district level to preserve quality education by requiring choral or instrumental specialization for our certified music teachers at the high school level.  It is in a spirit of cooperation, I look to you, our elected Board members to recognize the importance of music education and put policy in place to protect it from further damage.

Beaverton School District has a proud history of providing highly educated instructors in our classrooms.  According to the district website, 84% of our teachers possess master’s degrees or above.  Why would we chose to jeopardize our 9th through 12th grade music students, those at the top of the instructional ladder who have reached a superior level of proficiency in their study and ability, by selecting a music teacher who is not trained in the particular techniques appropriate to their discipline?  A choir director does not simply direct, but must be able to teach and model proper technique.  Gaining these skills takes years of education and practice.   Vocal chords can be damaged and bad habits can form that can take years to correct without a specialized instructor in place.  For instance, if a student is placed in an inappropriate range, say as a baritone when they’re actually a tenor, vocal chords can be damaged.  Damage also occurs if a student uses straight tone singing and is not corrected and taught to use healthy vibrato techniques or uses a flat tongued technique or has developed a habit of singing with locked solar plexus and goes uncorrected.  Instrumental techniques are not transferrable to vocal techniques.  Likewise, vocal techniques are not transferrable to playing the French horn, tuba or drums.  They are as different as the gallbladder and the heart, both part of the same body, but with specific and distinct functions.  These differences become more apparent as students move up the ladder in proficiency in their particular discipline.

Let us learn from today’s harsh realities, the repercussions of the crisis in our district.  We need to protect the education of our upper level music students so they are college and career ready by putting in place district policy that requires vocal music specialists in choir classrooms and instrumental specialists as band directors.

Policy can be put in place at all levels.  Recently I’ve learned that Southridge High School has additional graduation requirements on top of the Beaverton School District requirements.  Southridge requires 60 hours of Service Learning. Students who meet all the BSD requirements but do not complete Service Learning will not receive a diploma at Southridge.
If one school in our district can set policy to raise the standards of graduation requirements, can’t our Board set policy to require higher standards in BSD than are required by the broad language of umbrella policy that applies to the myriad of rural, urban and suburban school districts across the state of Oregon?

Respectfully submitted by
Laurel Bookhardt, parent of Aloha High students involved in music education since 2005.

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