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Group aims to boost school music programs

Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: June 22, 2014 at 11:24 AM

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A five-person task force dedicated to maintaining and bolstering music programs in Hernando County schools recently held its first meeting.

The group of educators was formed with the blessing of Schools Superintendent Lori Romano — a former band student — after school district leaders learned Central High School would not have a band program next year.

Powell Middle School Principal Jamie Young is facilitating the task force, comprised of elementary, middle and high school educators.

“We’re trying to see where we’re at and what we can do to get back on track with band, chorus and music as a whole,” Young said. “We thought middle school programs were at risk, but right now all of the middle and K-8 schools have something” music-related.

“We’re trying to find enrollment numbers and trying to be creative,” she said.

If any members of the Hernando County School Board doubted the importance of music programs to students, former students, parents and teachers, they were educated by more than a dozen speakers at a recent school board meeting.

Some speakers cited evidence that students in music programs generally have higher grade-point averages than their peers. Others credited music programs with helping students develop social skills, along with language and math abilities.

Recent Springstead High School graduate Katherine Kirchhoff, past captain of the school’s Marching Eagle Brigade, spoke of the role music education can play in students’ lives.

“Walking into a music program is unlike walking into any other classroom,” said Kirchhoff, who plans to study music at Florida State University. “It’s not opening a book and copying text for 45 minutes. The most important lessons I learned in high school were in a music classroom.”

Tim Mossgrove, band booster president at Hernando High School, told the board that music programs help teens in the school’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) program.

“The rhythm helps them learn language and increase math skills,” Mossgrove said. “Music gives (ESE) students a voice, a safe means of expression. They need to have a safe place to go to express themselves.”

Last week Joe Harrin, band director at Hernando High, said enrollment in some band programs might be down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that students aren’t interested in music programs.

“There are other complex factors in the way,” he said. “If their electives are eaten up by math or reading remediation, they can’t do band. Also, the schedule is down to six periods a day,” eliminating a class period.

Because band enrollment is down at Parrott Middle School, which feeds Hernando High, there might not be enough band students to maintain Hernando’s band program in the next two or three years, Harrin said.

“People are obviously concerned about it,” he said. “I was at Parrott this year, but it’s out of my hands. Administrators can only hire for positions that they have allocations for.”

The school board seemed to get the message.

Board Vice Chair Dianne Bonfield said both of her daughters were in band at Central High, and “no one wants to see a music program evaporate in this county.”

“My heart bleeds for you,” Bonfield told music supporters.

Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino said schools might have to seek private dollars to keep some music programs alive.

Young said that the task force plans to meet monthly. She said she was confident the group will find ways to save music programs.

“The arts in schools are really important,” she said. “We’re going to support directors and administrators in building their programs.”

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