by Autumn Evans
Cuts and changes in the district's music program were the subject of last week's Niagara-Wheatfield school board meeting, held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, in the Adult Learning Center of Niagara-Wheatfield High School. Board members Lori Pittman and Amy Duell were absent from the meeting, the latter due to being stranded in California because of the storm.
Sanborn resident Virginia Zuccari addressed the board about a letter she received from the district at the start of the school year regarding the sixth grade chorus at Edward Town Middle School. She said the letter discouraged students who needed Academic Intervention Services from taking the course.
"The basic tone of the letter was, 'your child can participate, except if they need extra help, if they need AIS. Then, sorry, they really shouldn't,' " Zuccari said. "It was really encouraging parents not to have their children in the sixth grade chorus."
The chorus class meets at the same time as a study hall with team teachers. The letter, dated Sept. 8, read, "For those students who need time to complete class work or assistance from the team teachers, we urge you to allow your child to remain in the study hall at this time. For those children who are truly passionate about chorus, please fill out the form..."
Zuccari said her youngest child, who attended the meeting with her, had a passion for music, and being an AIS student shouldn't keep her from that.
"It upsets me because I think you're putting AIS students, and any students in special education, in such a horrible position," she said. "They go to school every day and they're made fun of, they're called names. They already feel like they don't fit in. ... The quickest way to make a child hate school is to keep them from something that they love."
Board President Steven Sabo said the mandate came down from the state, and in North Tonawanda schools, the children weren't given an option at all.
Superintendent Lynn Marie Fusco said she would look into the issue.
Zuccari also asked the board to let parents know beforehand about teacher changes, and to include those teachers in each year's schedule-making process. She said it was disruptive when students attended class expecting a certain teacher they already knew, only to find out suddenly that a different teacher would be there.
"I can't even begin to express how upsetting it's been to the kids, and that's really who we're supposed to be here for: the kids," she said. "The kids really feel like everything got ripped out from underneath them this year, and that's not fair to them."
Niagara-Wheatfield High School senior Douglas Moore, a member of the school's concert choir, also spoke about the high school's music program. He said he was disappointed that voice labs were cut this year.
"I would just hate for our choir in the future not to be as good as it was because of no voice labs," he said. "I'm just concerned as a student because each day, I see us; we're good, but I feel like if we had extra practice to go over certain things, we can be better."
Ex-officio student board member Joshua Ranney agreed with Moore.
"I know as well you do Doug ... we're just as good as we were last year, but we're struggling individually," he said.
Moore said he hoped to see voice labs return next year, even though, as a graduating senior, he wouldn't be around for them.
"I would like to come back and still hear our school to be known as the best school for music," he said.
Two board members later thanked Moore for attending the meeting and bringing his concerns to them.
"I love to hear students advocate for themselves, so kudos to you, because it's a great lesson," Gina Terbot said. "You've got to do it when you get to college, you've got to do it when you're a grown-up. I'm very proud that you came up and spoke on what you feel passionately about. That's what education is all about, is teaching you to be that kind of citizen."
Chris Peters added, "Just know your words don't fall on deaf ears. We understand the situation, and we're trying to address it."
In other school board news:
•Sanborn resident Kathy Parmentier spoke to the board about the cutoff birthday date of Dec. 1 for kindergarten enrollment, stating she hoped her 3-year-old son, whose birthday is Dec. 4, would still be able to begin next year.
She said her son's pre-K teacher thought he was ready, and she asked the board to consider letting an outside source test him so he could begin next year, a practice used in other districts.
Fusco said doing so would require a change in policy. She invited Parmentier to meet with her at a later date to discuss the issue.
•Due to last week's storm, the finance presentation by Rick Timbs, showing projections for the next school year's budget, was canceled. It is tentatively rescheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, after the board's building walk-through.
•The district refunded $596.74 to Buffalo Lube Realty in Niagara Falls, as ordered by the court, after it protested its property assessment.
•Three half days were added to the school calendar. They are: March 6 for K-5; March 27 for 6-8; and June 16 for K-8.
•The board scheduled a new meeting for Dec. 10, to be preceded by a public hearing about the Alternative Veterans Tax Exemption. The meetings scheduled for Dec. 3 and Dec. 17 were canceled.