Music advocates at Riverside Brookfield High School are not giving up in their push to persuade the school board and school administrators to commit to three full-time music teachers.
Last week, for the third consecutive school board meeting, music parents, alumni and other supporters spoke up to plead their case. Frustrated by the response of school board President Deanna Zalas, the parents saw a glimmer of hope the day after the July 11 meeting when Superintendent Kevin Skinkis called Lisa Janunas, the new head of the Music and Theater Sponsors Parent Group, to ask for a meeting.
“I’m happy that he reached out, because I feel like he hasn’t really addressed us during all of this, so that’s encouraging,” Janunas told the Landmark last week.
On July 11, Janunas offered five ideas for new music offerings at RBHS so that choir teacher Kayley Smetana, who has been cut back to just one class, a 0.2 full-time-equivalent position, can provide more instruction.
“He liked that I presented some solutions, maybe some compromises, so hopefully we’ll talk about that,” Janunas said.
Janunas’ ideas included creating a lunchtime music lab, making a capella singing a class, offering a music refresher course for students who may have dropped music during the pandemic, offering a drama or introduction to theater class and creating a summer singing or theatre camp.
Janunas said Skinkis told her the school probably would not get to where music parents want them to be this year, but she held out hope for the future.
“Hopefully we’ll get some movement,” Janunas said.
Skinkis and Janunas have not met yet and will not be meeting this week because of vacation schedules.
Janunas and other music parents and supporters plan to keep on pushing.
“I don’t want to be a pain in the ass, I just want to see things change,” Janunas said. “They have to listen when there’s this many people demanding changes.”
Last year Smetana had a 0.6 FTE position, teaching three classes. She was also paid to supervise some study halls. Smetana came to RBHS in 2021 and was a 0.9 FTE her first year.
But a restructuring of RBHS’s department and division leadership model for the upcoming year has resulted in band director James Baum picking up one more class this year. One other music class, AP Music Theory, only is offered every other year and will not be offered this year.
After meeting in closed session to discuss personnel on July 11, the school board did approve hiring Smetana to be the faculty sponsor of the A Capella Club, a group she created. This newly created stipend position will pay Smetana $930 next year. The board also approved a $2,007 stipend for math teacher Rachelle Kelly to direct the Pep Band.
Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Lindquist said that, as of now, it appears Smetana will return to RBHS. She said that the school is committed to doing what it can, with fiscal limits, to keep her.
“The district is constantly monitoring numbers, seeing what our [class] sizes look like,” Lindquist said. “We don’t want this situation. You know, we don’t want the music parents and the music students to always have to feel like they’re fighting, but at the same time we have to be fiscally responsible, so we’re constantly monitoring and seeing what we can do.”
At the July 11 meeting, three RBHS music recent graduates told the school board and administration how important the RBHS music program has been to them.
Maddie Smith, who graduated from RBHS in 2017, majored in vocal performance at Illinois Wesleyan University. Now she is a part-time music teacher at a Catholic school and a band director at a Presbyterian church.
“The reason I have all of that is because of my time here,” Smith said.
Smith pleaded with the school board and administration to keep three full time music teachers.
“If you decide to continue to cut this budget and not value this department you are letting so many kids down,” Smith said. “You are stealing this experience from these kids.”
Administrators say they have not cut the budget of music program. Music staffing at RBHS has ranged from 2.1 FTE (in 2018-19) to 2.8 FTE (in 2020-21) to 2.4 FTE last year to 2.2 FTE for the upcoming school year.
The number of students signing up for music classes has fallen from 501 in the 2020-21 school year to 336 for the upcoming school year. Music supporters say that that is a temporary drop caused by the pandemic when many kids did not want to take music classes remotely.
The elimination of the Fine Arts Survey course as a graduation requirement also reduced the teaching load of music teachers. Parents say there could be smaller music classes with additional sections or that some large classes could be co-taught.
In addition to Janunas and Smith, 11 other people made public comments at the school board meeting asking for three full-time music teachers with some reading letters from alumni.
“Music teachers develop students in a way different than other teachers,” said Jonathan Wells, who graduated from RBHS in 2018.