Matthew Loeb

Despite the pleas of orchestra students and parents the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education voted unanimously March 9 to reduce music teacher Matthew Loeb’s job to part-time status next year. Students and parents fear that this will cause Loeb to look for a full-time job elsewhere.

Loeb, who is in his first year at RBHS, has made a big impression. At the Feb. 23 school board meeting 10 people, including three students, made public comments imploring the school board to retain Loeb as a full-time music teacher. 

During the March 9 school board meeting, more letters in support of Loeb were read during the public comment portion of the meeting, and the executive board of the RBHS Orchestra submitted a video in which 11 students lavished praise upon Loeb and asked the board to retain him full time. 

Freshman Greta Staneviciute said Loeb made even virtual orchestra a fun and rewarding class.

“It is the most engaging and joyful class I’ve ever had and it’s all due to Mr. Loeb,” Staneviciute said. “He has had such a big impact on my music abilities and is truly vital to the music department.”

The decision to reduce Loeb’s position to part time was based on declining enrollment in music classes next year. According to figures supplied by Assistant Principal Kylie Lindquist enrollment in music classes is projected to drop by about 25 percent in 2021-22. 

Music class sections are projected to decrease from 16 sections this year to 13 next year. The typical teaching load for full-time teachers is five classes. RBHS has two music teachers, band director James Baum and choir teacher Aubrey Prince, who have tenure. 

The elimination, effective next year, of the Fine Arts Survey course as a graduation requirement may have also played a role in the downgrading of Loeb’s position. 

Loeb this year taught one section of Fine Arts Survey each semester as well as teaching the chamber orchestra class, string orchestra, and co-teaching the wind ensemble and symphonic band classes with Baum.

Loeb’s supporters argued that the decline in music course enrollment was due to the pandemic and would not be a long-term trend.

“I believe the numbers will go up,” Staneviciute said. “Drastic measures can’t be based on one unrepresentative year.”

School board president Wes Smithing said the administration and school board made an attempt to keep Loeb by asking if he would consider working half time as a paraprofessional in addition to a half-time teaching position or perhaps teach visual arts.

“He pretty much told us no,” Smithing said. “He’s pretty much music-only, which is disappointing because we really like him. … In our fine arts, visual arts, that’s really where we’ve got a need right now. I mean it’s just hard when the numbers go down like that.”

Loeb did not respond to an email from the Landmark asking him for his reaction to the school board’s decision and whether he thought he would return to RBHS next year.

During the public comment portion of the meeting Smithing read a letter that was hand delivered to him by resident Rebecca Richardson imploring the board to rehire Loeb.

“Cutting the orchestra teacher to half time would jeopardize the future of RBHS teachers and I’m asking you to withdraw this proposal or vote no,” Richardson wrote. “Reducing funding for the orchestra teacher’s position merely because enrollment is down due to the pandemic is shortsighted.”