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Hernando school district mobilizes to save struggling music programs

District marching bands like the one at Hernando High School, shown marching in a parade, are facing declining participation.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

District marching bands like the one at Hernando High School, shown marching in a parade, are facing declining participation.

Confronted with declining enrollment in music programs, the Hernando County School District has assigned a task force to investigate what can be done to boost participation in band and choir.

The formation of the group, which came out of a June 2 meeting between school administrators and music instructors, follows two recent high-profile events — the elimination of Central High School's band and choir programs next year, and talk of possibly cutting band at Parrott Middle School.

This has mobilized students, parents, alumni and interested community members, many of whom have spoken at School Board meetings. They have touted the academic benefits of music, the sense of community it creates, and a variety of other advantages.

Both school and district administrators say they are committed to the arts. But how they will put that commitment into action has yet to be seen.

"Really, what we agreed on is the fact that we all think music is important," said Hernando superintendent Lori Romano.

But, she added, "How do we go about making sure that students have access to music for K-12 based on current budget restrictions?"

The task force, which meets for the first time on June 17, will try to address that question.

"We have a huge problem now that we have eliminated the arts in schools because of cuts over time," said Powell Middle School principal Jamie Young, who is part of the task force. "We're at this point now where it's affecting band and chorus. Kids love band and chorus.

"I'm confident that we're going to get back on track with the arts"

In the short term, she said, the group will work to identify students with an interest in music and try to find a way to get them in a program.

Joe Harrin, Hernando High's band director, said the task force will address waning enrollment, which is at the root of the issue, and how to fix it.

The group will "try to figure out a plan for how we can stop the bleeding, so to speak, in the music programs," he said.

There will be a particular emphasis on recruitment and retention of students at all levels.

"Is it really a lack of interest or are there some other factors?" he asked. "We believe the interest (is there), but there are other factors that get in the way."

In the long term, the group will address bigger-picture issues, including how best to support future band directors and how to encourage programs to grow.

"I feel strongly that it makes a difference for kids," Young said. "That's part of who they are; it's part of their personality."

Katie Kirchhoff, who was the captain of the Springstead High School Marching Eagle Brigade this past school year, was one of numerous people who spoke at a School Board meeting Tuesday night in support of music.

Kirchhoff, 18, said walking into a music room is unlike any other classroom.

"The most important lessons that I've ever had in high school I've found in a music classroom," she told School Board members. "I believe that if you take away music in any of the schools, you are going to be destroying opportunities for kids, for teenagers."

She urged the district not to take away someone's passion from them.

"I see kids walking into the music room and finding a family they don't have at home," she said

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando school district mobilizes to save struggling music programs 06/12/14 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014 1:51pm]
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