Student's appeal gives Germantown School Board pause

Proposed changes to band programs put on hold for now

Jan. 14, 2014

Germantown — Sometimes one person's voice can make the difference.

The Germantown School Board voted, 5-2, Monday night to defer consideration of reorganizing the high school's Wall of Sound marching band program until its Jan. 27 meeting after an appeal by Hope Burnham, a high school junior in the Wall of Sound color guard.

Burnham said she learned of plans to make Wall of Sound a co-curricular over the past two days from an article in a local weekly newspaper, an e-mail from her band director and discussions in band class.

"I understand that eliminating the class portion of Wall of Sound has been in the works for a long time, so I question why students and parents were only informed a few days ago," she told the board. "Unfortunately, since this matter only came to our awareness days ago, many students who would like to be here tonight are unable, due to prior work commitments and other conflicts."

Burnham asked for the delay "in the spirit of making the best possible decision for your students. I believe that time is necessary to hear what the students and parents think."

At present the band meets as the wind symphony class for the first semester. A memo prepared by band instructors Jim Barnes and Jon Bell noted that this class is intended for advanced students in grades 10-12, but presently includes students who would otherwise be in concert winds, a class intended for freshmen; or symphonic band, a standard class for grades 10-12.

"Wall of Sound presently has a dual identity," Barnes and Bell wrote. "It meets both as a class during the fall semester and also rehearses and performs as a co-curricular group." They said the change would mean students would be "placed into a band class that is grade- and ability-appropriate for every student," and would allow more scheduling flexibility and permit more participation opportunities.

"I will take fault for not providing more information to people," Superintendent Jeff Holmes said. "I have the utmost respect for what band does for students," Holmes said, adding that he believes the changes "makes our band program stronger." The superintendent admitted afterward he was surprised by the mini-controversy, but said that with the changes "there will be more time to utilize for Wall of Sound practices."

Responding to a question from the board about any possible "downside" to changes, Barnes said "the downside is that students would not be meeting every day as the Wall of Sound."

Barnes added that "we're trying to do what's right for the curriculum, I feel very positive about the changes. Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to talk to the kids before the board meeting."

Board president Bob Soderberg said that "even though it might be the best thing since sliced bread," without broader understanding of the changes "I don't know if it would be right" to enact them without the two-week delay.

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