BY MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The symphonic band program will remain a part of the school day and not treated as an after-school activity in the forthcoming school year. David Bartlett, interim principal of Laconia High School, announced the change yesterday.
In April, Jim McCollum, who resigned as principal of Laconia High School in June, made clear the band program would no longer be a daytime class, but rather would meet during what he called a "fifth block," between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., at the end of the school day. He explained that reductions in the school district budget led to the elimination of four teaching positions, without which the band program could not be scheduled during the school day while keeping class sizes to reasonable numbers.
When the decision was announced, Debbie Gibson, the longtime music director who retired last month, rallied band members in an effort to reverse it. At school board meetings in May, June and July, students and parents again and again stressed the importance of ensuring the music program remained an integral part of the school day. At the same time, Gibson offered the school administration and school board several alternative means of scheduling the program during the school day without incurring additional expense.
Gibson hailed yesterday's decision as "a great step forward."
"The number one thing," she said, "is that this has taught the students a real-life civics lesson," explaining that they learned to be "positive, present and passionate" to succeed in bringing about change.
"I'm very excited," said Colleen O'Brien, the incoming president of the band. "It's going to allow kids engaged in other activities to stay in the band. She feared at least 15 of 50 members of the band would leave the program if it became an after-school activity, explaining that more than half play sports while others are in engaged in drama and other activities. Even if band is not their first priority," she continued, "they're all important to our small family."
Bartlett said that the symphonic band program will be scheduled during "Sachem Support," a 48-minute daily block set aside for students to seek academic assistance or pursue enrichment opportunities by meeting with teachers and counselors. The jazz band, which numbers about a dozen, will remain an after-school program and two sections of chorus will meet for half the year each. He said that he had met with Krin Montrose, Gibson's successor, several times, most recently this week, and they reached the decision together. "I think we've alleviated a lot of concerns," he said.
School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan welcomed the decision, which he said addresses the most significant concerns expressed to the school board. Meanwhile, he said that the school administration will be reconsidering the schedule in general in the course of the coming school year.
"We have to look at everything," Bartlett agreed, "including the block schedule in terms of what is best for all our students." At the same time, he cautioned "there isn't a perfect schedule. There just isn't."
Gibson, a critic of block scheduling, said she is pleased that the future of the band program has contributed to a reconsideration of the entire schedule.
"This was not just for us, not just about the band," she said. "The music students represented the whole school, including the advanced placement students and the students at the Huot Technical Center."