LISD middle school orchestras

Students from Creek Valley, Durham and Lamar middle schools brought signs to show support for their orchestra programs. 

More than 30 parents and students told the Lewisville ISD Board of Trustees on Monday why they don't agree with the district's plan to consolidate three middle school orchestra programs.

One student showed them.

For more than an hour board members heard concerns about the district's plan that would move Lamar Middle School's orchestra program to Downing Middle School, Durham Middle School's to Hedrick and Creek Valley Middle School's to Arbor Creek Middle School. Per state law, board members could not respond to the questions and statements since those took place during public participation.

But, following Trustee Jenny Proznik's request, the item will be discussed by the board at Monday's board workshop at 5 p.m. at the LISD Administration Center, 1565 W. Main St. in Lewisville.

The plan is for the move to begin in the 2020-21 school year, and the orchestra program at Lamar, Durham and Creek Valley would be phased out in three years.

Letters sent to parents of the impacted schools stated their student would need to transfer campuses in order to take orchestra as an elective their sixth-grade year. 

Joseph Coburn, chief schools officer, explained in an email Tuesday the rationale for the plan.

“With 90 minutes per day for high school elective courses and a reputation for fine arts excellence that is second to none, Lewisville ISD should be the premier destination for an orchestra teacher,” Coburn said. “However, the existence of half time or multi-campus orchestra assignments was negating the advantages previously listed.  Half-time teachers also create scheduling difficulties at the schools that can have an impact far beyond just orchestra.”

Coburn also said approximately 125 orchestra members is optimal for a middle school program.

“That number allows for a competitive varsity group, a robust non-varsity group, and beginning classes in which students can learn with other students on the same instrument,” Coburn said. “Programs of that size can also sustain three ensembles at the high school level.” 

Students and parents opposed the plan, and several disputed the reasons that were given in letters sent to parents in October, including the programs’ dwindling numbers.

“Our program is growing,” said Creek Valley student Annika Sawant, who performed a piece on her violin before addressing the board. “We all have a true passion for music. We had the fourth-most students make All-Region this year out of 15 middle schools.”

Several students described the benefit being in orchestra has had on them.

“Orchestra has been an incredibly fun and rewarding opportunity for me and many other students,” said Lewisville High School senior Garrett Hicks. “I’ve made many friends in orchestra, and the impact that it’s had on my life can’t be overstated.”

Others talked about how being in orchestra has helped them overcome emotional challenges.

Several students said it's unlikely students will transfer to participate in orchestra.

“It's not easy to transfer,” said Lamar eighth-grader Sarah Koontz. “Kids won't choose an elective over their friends, especially if they don't know if they'll like it yet.”

Elizabeth Chapel, assistant professor of music education at the University of North Texas, cited the accomplishments of all three middle school orchestras.

“There is absolutely no evidence that this will increase demand on the existing campuses and absolutely no evidence that this will attract more qualified applicants,” Chapel said. “Quite the opposite. In fact, this will weaken your high school programs and weaken your reputation as being supportive of orchestra directors.”

In the letter to parents, LISD said other reasons for the plan include facility capacity at the schools taking in the new programs, enhanced ensemble opportunities with the consolidation and expanded campus scheduling options.

While officials did not comment Monday a Q&A posted by the district states “multi-year enrollment and trend data was evaluated, and opportunities for consolidation were evident within geographical areas.”

It states there will not be a reduction in staff or funding and that no student currently enrolled in middle school orchestra will be impacted.

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