Twenty-five people, both students and parents, made passionate and often emotional comments at the May 23 meeting of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education, imploring the school board to change course and fund three full- time music teacher positions next year.
An overflow crowd of approximately 50 people attended the meeting to urge the school board to keep choir teacher Kayley Smetana, who has been offered a reduced part-time position teaching of just one class next year.
Kayley Smetana is not related to District 208 Assistant Superintendent Kristin Smetana.
The students and parents told the school board that RBHS needs three full-time music teachers, not the 2.2 full-time equivalent positions that the school board has proposed. The administration says the staffing level is in line with enrollment and that no music classes are being cut.
That explanation hasn’t satisfied music students and parents, who argue music enrollment has not rebounded from remote learning and mask-wearing during the pandemic.
“I want you to give us three full time teachers even though the numbers don’t fully support it so we can build this program,” said parent Liz Buoscio. “But I want you to make sure Kayley Smetana is back, because that woman is what has made the difference. It’s not just filling the seat. It’s her running the three choirs.”
RBHS music students and parents spoke passionately about the impact all three RBHS music teachers have had on the lives of students.
“I fear that if we lose our third teacher it won’t only be taking away from the choir, who is so amazing, it will be taking from the entire music department,” said RBHS student Jane Tselepis choking up during her comments. “Our teachers are already stretched so far.”
Graduating senior Olivia Buoscio said Smetana and her other music teachers inspired her to study music education in college with the goal of becoming a choir teacher herself.
“Last year Ms. Smetana came to RB and breathed life into a program that everyone thought had died and over the past two years here she created a loving, caring, welcoming environment within the choir program that will not survive without her,” Buoscio said.
The day before the school board meeting, Principal Hector Freytas and Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Lindquist met with choir students during the day and with about 50 music parents in the Music Sponsors group in the evening to explain the staffing decisions.
Their explanations did not satisfy the students or parents who complained that they were only being officially notified of the staffing decisions at the end of the school year, months after the decisions were made. They complained that administrators sometimes gave evasive responses to questions.
The battle over music staffing is not new at RBHS. Two years ago, students and parents complained when it looked as if music teacher Matthew Loeb would only be offered a part-time position. For one year, RBHS and Riverside Elementary District 96 worked out a job-sharing arrangement in which Loeb taught in both districts.
Last year Smetana, who has less seniority than Loeb, was given a 0.6 FTE position but was given two study halls to supervise to get her up to a full-time position.
Students and parents said they are tired of the constant battle to retain music teachers and want the school board to commit to funding three full-time music teachers.
“Through all the times that I have gotten upset at what’s happens to my music teachers year after year I’m given the explanation that numbers aren’t large enough to employ three full-time music teachers,” said Veronica Hunt just three days before she graduated from RBHS. “So I am just a number and so are all the students sitting here today. Go ahead and take down all the posters in the school saying it is a safe space for us, and never announce on the PA system again that you care about us, because numbers don’t have emotions.”
Hunt was at the meeting administrators had with choir students. She felt she was spoken down to and not really listened to. She added that the school should reinstate some kind of fine arts requirement for graduation and take other steps to offer more music classes.
If Smetana does not return to RBHS, Loeb would probably take over two of the three choir classes and the school would try to hire a part-time teacher to teach one class.
In a telephone interview with the Landmark Hunt said that she thought it was important that RBHS have a female choir teacher, because about two-thirds of choir members are girls and Smetana has been an excellent role model.
Freytas did not respond to a request for comment but Lindquist emphasized that RBHS is not cutting any music classes.
“We pursued and received board permission to run choir classes below the cap to continue to help the choirs bounce back after the pandemic,” Lindquist said in an email. “The FTE for the classes students requested has simply shifted. Every music class that typically runs is running next year.”
Hunt said music supporters at RBHS will not give up until they get three full-time music teachers.
“If you don’t make this change, we will be back, I promise,” Hunt said.