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Waning enrollment spells end to music, agriculture programs at Central High in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — Senior Theresa Hancock was shocked when she heard that Central High School was eliminating its band program for the next school year.

A four-year trombonist and this year's band captain, she says band has been a major part of her life, inspiring her, teaching her determination and helping her express and feel a full range of emotions.

"I was in disbelief," said Hancock, 18. "Why would they choose to cut it now of all times?"

Central High's band has long struggled to draw students and, in recent years, has suffered from a revolving door of directors.

For the coming year, the band program only had 20 students. This year, it had 25. The previous year, it had 21, according to principal John Stratton.

"It pains me greatly," Stratton said. "I'm a high school without a band. It doesn't sit well with me."

Band isn't the only program facing the chopping block next year. The school's chorus and agriculture programs also are being eliminated.

Only 20 students signed up for next year's chorus, while the agriculture program had roughly 50 students.

Neither chorus, band nor agriculture has generated enough interest for a full-time teaching position, Stratton said.

"I do not find it fiscally prudent to continue these programs," he wrote in a letter. "It is my intent to offer these students the option of continuing in these programs at another district high school."

The elimination of band, in particular, has prompted a backlash from students, alumni and community members. It comes at a time when some other band and chorus programs in the county have faced increased scrutiny and the possibility of elimination.

"We're seeing an unfortunate pattern in the cutting of music programs in our public schools, which is extremely disturbing when I think back to the research that shows that students enrolled in music achieve higher on standardized test scores," said Luke Cramer, Central's band and chorus director.

Neil Jenkins, executive director of the Florida Bandmasters Association, agreed.

The more involved a student, the more pronounced academic gains, Jenkins said. It can be seen in math, reading and fluency.

"Why we cut programs that help in these areas is hard to understand at times," he said in an email.

Jenkins said economics and low enrollment are the primary factors behind the cutting of arts programs across the state.

Stratton said that he has noticed waning enrollment in band at other schools.

"In general, we have a lot of other requirements we have to fill when it comes to remediation," he said. "Sometimes kids don't have the option as much as they used to."

He said he has received a handful of phone calls to bring back Central's band program.

Senior Samuel McCandless, who took band for three years, gave music a lot of the credit for his academic success.

"I hate to see it go," he said. "Music is just so important to the people who play it."

Cramer, the school's band and choir director, said he was deeply saddened by the news that his two programs were being eliminated. He said he felt the band had improved and that it benefited from consistency in the director's position.

"I believe it got stronger over the two years," he said. "You need a director who is going to stick there and stay there through thick and thin, big numbers and low numbers, and help grow the program."

For Courtney Brening, a sophomore drum major, a change in the program was anticipated because of low participation. But the clarinet player didn't expect the program to end.

Brening, 16, explained that students are able to take only two elective courses per year. Many incoming freshmen at Central opt to take ROTC and a required language class instead of band or chorus.

"I met a lot of new friends," she said, "and it's just overall really fun."

Times staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.