Maintain the RTMSD Penncrest Upscales class
I strongly believe that merging the Penncrest High School Upscales and Concert Choir classes will greatly reduce the quality of the RTMSD music program.
The purpose of the Upscales class is to provide an entry point (from a music and social standpoint) to students from varied levels of musical experience.
The “one-size-fits-all” approach enacted here will have a negative impact on:
• The students – making it harder to successfully acquire the music theory background and experience that they need to become a fully contributing and confident member of Concert Choir
• The program – as the lack of an entry point may impact our historically high (~90%) overall 4-year retention rate
• The RTM school district – as a weakened choir program would damage its effectiveness as a showcase for the high school and the district as a whole.
As the number of expected students for Upscales for coming school year is 18, above the minimum requirement of 15 that is used to financially justify a class, the merger of this class is not justified and would be akin to merging an 18 student level 2 &3 English class with a 40 students level 1 & AP class. The teacher cannot possibly differentiate her teaching and the overall quality of the class will suffer as students become demotivated and frustrated.
Furthermore, by acquiring a part-time teacher, the program’s excellent reputation will be significantly and quickly diminished.
For these reasons, I oppose the merger and ask the Board to revisit their decision to cancel the Upscales class next year.
The background and concerns:
For many years, the Penncrest High School choirs have delighted music lovers not just in their home community of Delaware County, Pennsylvania but in other states along the East Coast as well – from Florida to Massachusetts. Whether surprising holiday shoppers with flash concerts at Fanueil Hall and major malls; caroling along our main street, or performing at tree lighting ceremonies in hospitals and senior centers; performing at local public or private events including our downtown “Dining Under the Stars”, Lions club and Rotary meetings; or competing at state and nationwide competitions in Boston, Orlando or Virginia Beach, these groups of talented vocalists not only entertain crowds but also contribute to the Rose Tree Media School District’s visibility and reputation as a school with academically and musically talented, involved students. This program provides students with the perfect opportunity to advance their musical talents and, at a critical time in their development, socially fit into a friendly, supportive and dynamic group. Studies show that music students do better academically; the Penncrest choir program truly contributes to the foundation required for social and academic as well as musical growth.
In order to give every student his or her best chance at developing his or her own musical talent, the Penncrest choir has offered different level classes for many years. The program consists of:
• “Upscales”, a small group typically of 18-24 students who have a strong desire and commitment to sing but who need additional instruction on foundation level music skills
• Concert Choir, a core choir for students with strong musical and vocal backgrounds who demonstrate a vocal ability and understanding of basic music theory via an audition
• “Ambassador Choir”, a small select choir for auditioned upperclass students.
The demanding high school choral program has been directed by a full time choral director who teaches additional classes as well as planning and directing upwards of 24 school and community concerts and at least one annual distant competition.
Why does Penncrest need the “Upscales” class?
Upscales provides a variety of instruction and support.
• Most Freshmen entering Penncrest need additional music training in music theory, sight reading, blending, rhythms, intervals, and other foundation skills. Upscales offers an ensemble that features the voices of young dedicated women in a choral class that gives them the opportunity to learn such skills. Because of its class size, vocalists from Upscales typically integrate more easily into than the larger, faster-paced groups, and thus it is perfect for students who require additional music skills.
• The group’s size also allows more socially-isolated or neurodiverse students to gain self-confidence as they feel less intimidated and receive more individual attention and instruction. This introductory level setup directly contributes to both their social and academic growth.
The School Board’s decision regarding Upscales – and its impact
The Rose Tree Media School Board made the decision on April 8thto merge the Upscales and Concert Choir classes for the school year 2014-2015.
Eliminating this entry point will have several direct consequences, including:
• less of an opportunity for students at all levels to develop their musical skills. Students who lack a strong musical background will feel “behind” at best; while students with a stronger background won’t be given the appropriate environment to advance musically. (Vocalists at any level can attest that it is very difficult to sing well when next to someone who hasn’t been trained properly.)
• an expected drop in the historically high (~90%) overall 4 year retention rate in the choir program due to the negative impact on student motivation. This will ultimately result in a downward spiral for the entire choir program in both numbers and quality.
• diminished chances for freshmen to seamlessly adjust to the new high-school environment.
• increased difficulties for Penncrest to attract and maintain talented vocalists needed to perform publicly showcasing the quality of the RTMSD education.
• an inability to compete with other school districts who remain committed to their choral program. (When parents contemplate a move into a highly rated school district such as Rose Tree Media, they consider more than average SATs and the number of AP classes. They also look at the quality of elective and extra-curricular activities and the commitment the district has shown toward their growth.)
The School Board’s decision regarding the Director – and its impact
The Board has also determined that the Director will no longer be a full-time employee. The impact of this decision will diminish the quality of the program by not having a dedicated full-time director to run a program that is currently more than a full-time job. Traveling with 80-100 students, whether down the street or across state lines requires a tremendous amount of paperwork as well as consideration of staging, lighting, sound, etc. No venue can be settled upon without school approval and student commitment. The Director also works individually with students wishing to compete in the state’s prestigious festivals sponsored by the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association (PMEA). Penncrest students often reach District level with some achieving Regional placement and a talented few reaching the prestigious State level. A part-time choir director simply can’t be expected to dedicate additional personal time to these students. The commitment to the choir program is reflected in the commitment and quality of its students. When the administration doesn’t support its faculty, it doesn’t support the choir program nor the talented individuals.
Benefits vs. costs
Of course, every subject area makes an important contribution to the school. But school districts also need to strike the right balance between benefits and costs. For this reason there are rules to decide when a class has the right “bang for the buck”, typically driven by class attendance. At Penncrest any class having more than 15 students scheduled for the following year is deemed financially justified and thus maintained.
The number of expected students for “Upscales” for 2014-2015 academic year is 18, and that number typically grows over the summer.
Based upon the district’s own “financial” grounds alone, the “Upscales” class should be preserved.
How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement, by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies: http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Publications/critical-evidence.pdf
The perceived benefits of singing - Findings from preliminary surveys of a university college choral society: http://rsh.sagepub.com/content/121/4/248.short
Note: The retention figures are being verified but in the interest of time as the next Board meeting is May 13th (and all are welcome, see http://www.rtmsd.org/Page/188 for details) a “best estimate” was used.