Proposed changes to Granite music programs creates crescendo of concern

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Granite High campus Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. More than 500 concerned individuals have signed a petition urging the Granite School District to abandon its plans to cut band and orchestra programs in elementary schools. But district officials say no such plans exist.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Six months after a petition circulated to save elementary band and orchestra classes in Granite School District, officials again are faced with rumors that music programs are being eliminated. 

While band and orchestra will remain in one form or another, proposed changes to the program have parents and students worried about losing access to the popular classes, and district music specialists are worried about losing their jobs.

Linda Mariotti, Granite's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, held a meeting Oct. 12 with the district's 14 music specialists, as well as representatives from the district's human resources department and the Granite Education Association.

Mariotti said she informed the group that the district was having discussions about shifting band and orchestra classes to an extracurricular format to lessen classroom disruption and focus on the wholly separate general music curriculum, which is a required component of the Utah Core.

Currently, students in fifth or sixth grades have the option of participating in band and orchestra classes, in which a music specialist visits a school twice each week and pulls participating students out of class for 45 minutes.

Such music classes are not required by the Utah State Office of Education, Mariotti said. They also create 90 minutes of stagnant class time each week for teachers and often come at the detriment of general music instruction to all students, she said.

"If you leave the classroom for 45 minutes twice a week, you're missing whatever is going on in the classroom," Mariotti said. "In an elementary teacher's day, who has 11, 12, 14 subjects to try and teach, getting to general music has not always been a priority."

Granite District spokesman Ben Horsley said 3,420 of the district's 67,000 students participate in the instrumental music program, or roughly one out of every 20 children.

General music education, on the other hand, is a statewide component of the regular academic day for all students in kindergarten through sixth grade. It is taught by elementary school teachers, not district specialists, and provides basic instruction on musical theory and notation. It also teaches students to play simple instruments such as recorders or ukuleles.

Mariotti said the model the district is considering would be to move band and orchestra to either before or after school — determined at the local level by a school's community council — and extend the time to two 60-minute classes each week. The classes could also potentially be opened up to fourth-grade students, she said.

In that scenario, participating students would receive 30 additional minutes of band or orchestra instruction each week, teachers would have 90 more minutes of effective class time each week, and schools would be able to better focus on the Utah Core general music requirements for all students.

The move would be similar to the format of Canyons School District, where band and orchestra classes are held before or after school at 22 of the district's elementary schools, according to spokesman Jeff Haney.

"The state has provided a curriculum and standards for general music," Mariotti said. "There are not any standards or expectations from the state that we teach instrumental music."

Mariotti also was insistent that the changes were not being made out of financial concerns. Despite several years of drastic budget cuts — including $58 million in the past four years — the school board and administration have insisted on preserving elementary band and orchestra, even though there is no state requirement to do so. 

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