The consistent reduction of music programs in Santa Barbara has had a hurtful effect on music teachers. As a parent of a Santa Barbara Unified School District student, who has more 30 years of experience in music education at the public junior high, senior high, and college levels, I am watching these reductions harm students, programs, and teachers alike.
Each year at this time, music teachers at the junior high and high school levels are terrorized by the Santa Barbara district. Imagine being told that your career would be terminated or, at best, the work you had done to build a program destroyed each May. Why would any competent teacher remain in a district that treats them so poorly when they could move to other districts that don’t carry out these annual practices, such as Bakersfield or Ventura? This is exactly what is happening to two-thirds of the district’s instrumental music teachers at the junior and senior high schools.
Last year the instrumental music teacher at Santa Barbara High School was informed that only one teacher would be assigned to both the Santa Barbara Junior (SBJHS) and senior high programs, a single position attempting to serve two schools. The decision was made instead to cut the junior high position to a 0.6 teaching load and eliminate orchestra. The previous teacher at the junior high could no longer tolerate the lack of support and annual notifications of cuts from her principal and the district; after nine years at SBJHS, she chose to move to an elementary school position. Now that May has arrived, rumors are again flying about combining the positions.
After three years of district maneuvering to combine positions, the SBHS music teacher, a Santa Barbara native whose jazz ensemble just earned three “superior” ratings at the Reno Jazz Festival, has decided to move out of the district. Her reasoning was simple: cutting back two programs under the guise of building up their numbers is not conducive to proper instrumental music education.
Reducing the musical offerings at both schools will force students and teachers into unrealistic combinations of music courses. Imagine a PE program that schedules boys’ and girls’ varsity and junior varsity football, soccer, and baseball teams on the same field at the same time. That is what the district is proposing when it forces concert band and concert orchestra classes together. Jazz, marching, concert, and string programs cannot be combined. There isn’t literature composed for these kinds of ensembles.
Combining the beginning and advanced students does nothing but alienate the beginners and bore the more advanced students. The advanced students are not there to teach a beginner how to finger a B-flat; they are there to push themselves and improve as students. This is another reason why combining classes leaves the instructor with a no-win situation.
The current teacher at La Colina is one of the most talented young teachers I have seen in years. He teaches jazz band before school at 7:30 a.m. and, in an effort to bolster his string program, orchestra after school until 4:15. This week he was told he would be transferred to Washington Elementary and the program he rebuilt at La Colina would be reopened at a 0.6 position. Imagine living in Santa Barbara on a little over half of a teacher’s salary. Now imagine that salary with a 7:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m. teaching day, plus concerts, parades, paperwork, and meetings. What kind of talent pool will that position attract?
This 0.6 status also places the district in a position to combine La Colina and San Marcos High’s music teachers into one position. Last summer it proposed to combine SBJHS and SBHS teachers into one position until parents voiced concerns.
The responsibility for the threats of downsizing our music programs and reassigning teachers differs depending on whom you ask. Our previous superintendent would say it is a site-based decision, meaning that each principal decides on the classes offered. The principals will tell you that the decision is coming from Human Resources, because what principal would admit to such practices? It is an endless loop.
What you can do:
(1) Each and every late April and May, speak at a school board meeting. Google “SBUSD board meetings” for a schedule. The next one is Tuesday, May 22, at 6:30 p.m., Santa Barbara Unified School District Board Room, 720 Santa Barbara Street.
(2) Call, email, or write the superintendent, principals, and boardmembers stating your wish for the development and maintenance of full instrumental music programs at these sites.
By preemptively sending a strong sign of support to the S.B. Unified administration, we can end this annual harassment of exemplary music teachers.