Droves of music supporters packed an Astoria School Board meeting Wednesday night to protest a proposed restructuring of the school district’s music program, which they say would lead to the downfall of orchestra.
Angela Calvin-Pederson, who spends about half of her full-time position teaching orchestra and the other half teaching general music at Lewis and Clark Elementary School, recently put a call out to her students and orchestra supporters expressing her concerns and calling on people to attend the meeting.
She was given the choice between teaching full-time general music at the elementary school or taking the part-time orchestra position, losing hours, income and the opportunity for medical benefits, she said.
“I personally feel that it will be a challenge to bring in a string specialist for less than full time that is qualified and committed to staying in this community long term,” Calvin-Pederson said in her email.
Calvin-Pederson declined to answer whether she would take either position under the proposed restructuring. But her husband, Cory Pederson, the Jewell music instructor, said Wednesday that she would no longer be the teacher if the proposal goes through. He asked for the school district to include the community and find a solution that would save the strings program.
Several of Calvin-Pederson’s students testified about her influence and the importance of having a string specialist.
Violinist Julie Foss, a junior at Astoria High School, said she has been playing nine years with Calvin-Pederson.
“The plan for next year makes that strings position undesirable, which would take away this beautiful program from a lot of students who care about it,” Foss said.
Several music leaders, including Liberty Theatre Director Jennifer Crockett and the North Oregon Coast Symphony’s Charlene Larsen and Glenn Thomas, came out in support of Calvin-Pederson and urged the school board to consider the effect on the community of losing a strings program.
One parent, however, took issue with how she said children are being used as pawns by Calvin-Pederson.
“My children’s job is to learn, not to fight for a teacher’s preferred schedule or medical benefits,” Kallie Linder said.
The school district has argued the restructuring is needed to make scheduling of core subjects less dependent on the travel of music teachers.
The school district employs the equivalent of four full-time music instructors split between four schools. John Jacob Astor Elementary School has one general music instructor, Jeanine Van De Grift. Lewis and Clark Elementary School shares two teachers, Calvin-Pederson and band teacher Jeremy Johnson. Calvin-Pederson, Johnson and choir teacher Matthew Pierce each split time between Astoria Middle School and Astoria High School teaching their specialties.
A recommendation by the district would add the equivalent of half a full-time teacher to the music staff. Lewis and Clark would have a dedicated general music teacher, the same as Astor. Full-time band and choir teachers would be split between the middle and high schools. A part-time orchestra instructor would split time between the middle and high schools, no longer visiting Lewis and Clark.
Astoria Superintendent Craig Hoppes, responding to audience calls Wednesday to explain the recommendation, said it’s difficult to schedule 90 minutes of daily reading for students at Lewis and Clark as recommended with the schedules of music teachers. The district also has a flourishing band program and needs to redirect Johnson’s time to the middle and high schools, he said.
“Angela’s a great teacher, but I need solutions,” Hoppes said. “Because you know that I have 90 minutes of reading block that I have to get, and I will get it one way or another.”
Hoppes is more than willing to take another look at solutions to accommodate the strings program and reading requirements, but there has to be some give-and-take, he said.
School board members said they are not trying to damage the music program. Board member Jenna Rickenbach said that while kids need the 90-minute reading block, she also sees people’s concerns that a part-time strings position would make it difficult to have a sustainable strings program.
“We will probably go back to the drawing board,” said Jeanette Sampson, the board chairwoman, who became emotional in response to the testimony on behalf of Calvin-Pederson.