By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The band played on when the School Board met Tuesday as Debbi Gibson, head of the Music Department and Curriculum Coordinator of Fine Arts, accompanied by students and parents, challenged the board's decisions to remove band from the school day and the elementary and high schools as well as to reduce the high school chorus from a year-long program to a semester.
Gibson, whose 27-year tenure with the district is drawing to a close, presented the board with a 12-page critique of its recommendations together with alternative proposals for the music program, which she stressed could be adopted without any additional costs.
Holding back tears, Gibson read from her presentation, stressing the adverse effects of offering band after the school day. She noted that when it was removed from the schedule in the elementary schools at the request of the principals, attendance dwindled by 85 percent. Band lessons, she said, have been shown to enhance reading and mathematical skills as well as improve student behavior. Removing the band program from the school day in the elementary schools, Gibson warned, would adversely affect the music programs in the middle and high schools.
Likewise, Gibson said that moving band to an after-school program at the high school would jeopardize or eliminate marching band shows, drum lines for parades, pit orchestras for dramatic performances, and pep band for basketball games. Members of the band, she feared, would be unable to participate in clubs and have limited opportunities to seek help from teachers after school. Finally, Gibson said, members of the band would no longer be engaged with the rest of the student body when the school day ends, but instead would be segregated from the others.
"Band is not the problem with scheduling at our high school," Gibson told the board, "our schedule is the problem. It is time that we look into the real problem," she continued, "our schedule as it stands now."
Trimming the high school choral program to one semester, Gibson said, will deprive students of opportunities to advance to higher levels of performance and receive the additional instruction to prepare them for the Lakes Region Music Festival and All-State auditions and festivals. Nor will students have opportunities to perform for civic organizations and at civic ceremonies like Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Gibson said she has offered her suggestions to the elementary and high school as well met with interim School Superintendent Phil McCormack and urged the board to reconsider its recommendation in light of her proposed alternatives.
Josh Chandler, a sophomore, read an eloquent statement echoing the misgivings expressed by Gibson. Then his father, Howard Chandler, called the decisions "a rush to judgment" by which the board chose to "solve the problem quickly rather than solve it well" while his mother, Carrie, said "Private school has never crossed my mind until now."
Ryan D'Arezzo, another sophomore, described the band as "a family," adding that the friendships among its members were especially important to him after losing his father. Music, he said, is a significant part of education and he intends to go to college to become a music teacher.
"Let us show you what we can do," student Mariah told the board, reminding the members of an upcoming concert. "And don't wear socks with sandals, 'cause your socks will be blown away!"