By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Although the Laconia High School Band did not play a fanfare when Brendan Minnihan, the newly appointed superintendent of schools, attended his first meeting of the School Board last evening, he got an earful just the same.
Outgoing music director Debbie Gibson, along with some two dozen band members and their parents, once again urged the the administration and the board to reverse the decision to schedule band as an after-school program and return it to the school day with other academic classes.
Even before they spoke, Minnihan remarked that while he might have thought the crowd came to welcome him, he knew better, then added that “There might be some options for band.” In light of the time of year, he said “It is nearly impossible to make it like it was,” but then assured the students and parents that “We’ll look at the schedule in general for 2017-2018 and see what we can do.”
Timothy King, fresh from Boy Scout camp, seized on Minnihan’s remarks, stressing that he understood “nearly impossible” to mean “it’s possible” and, standing to attention and raising his hand he asked the board “On your honor, please do your best.”
“You need to keep it at what it is,” said Linda Phelps, a grandmother. “A lot of kids can’t stay after school, “ she continued. “If it were sports they’d be bending over backwards to give them their time.”
She was echoed by her husband, Brian, who reminded the board that Gibson began with 28 musicians and grew the band to 70.
“Having band at the end of the day is not going to cut it,” he said. “Don’t quit!”
Josh Chandler urged Minnihan to put himself in the place of a parent with a child faced with choosing between playing in the band or pursuing other activities after school.
Calling the music program “a hidden jewel for the city of Laconia,” William Cone, a rising sophomore, said that he owed much of the success he enjoyed as a freshman to playing in the band. He expected he would be overwhelmed by carrying five classes including band and feared many students would forsake band or chorus because of the changed schedule. He recalled traveling to Disney World, where the band won “best in class,” and doubted his younger brother would have the same opportunity.
Gibson presented the board with three scheduling options for incorporating the music program — band and chorus — into the school day without requiring additional staff or incurring additional costs. She referred to research that demonstrated that after-school music programs suffer a high drop-out rate. Other research indicated that there is no difference in academic achievement among students who leave class for music instruction and those who do not. A study of 15,000 students in Ohio concluded by ninth-grade students of low socioeconomic status not only overcame disparities in achievement but performed better than their peers of higher status in math, science, reading and citizenship.
After the meeting, Gibson said that her successor, Krin Montrose, has been discussing the issue with school administrators and David Bartlett, recently named interim principal of Laconia High School, acknowledged that the scheduling of band is an ongoing topic of conversation with the music director.
Retired music director for Laconia School District Debbie Gibson speaks to the school board about her desire to keep band as a regular class, not an after-school activity. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
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