By Mike Szymanski | Studio City-Toluca Lake Patch | http://bit.ly/egJ5U9
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Walter Reed Middle School
4525 Irvine Ave, Studio City, CA
March 15,2011 - 2:47 AM - Just a few days after winning a district-wide award for having the best school music program, two Walter Reed Middle School music teachers were given Reduction In Force notices by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Parents, students, Music Boosters, the PTSA and certainly the teachers themselves, are stunned and outraged.
“If anyone from the district level has the nerve to say that they think music is important in the public schools these days, they are lying,” said an angry and disappointed Stephen McDonough, who taught band and orchestra for 13 years at Walter Reed Middle School. “To let his happen is complete absurd.”
McDonough and orchestra teacher Jessica Johnson were given RIF notices this weekend as they were debuting the school’s Bye Bye Birdie performance that runs through this weekend with chorus teacher Janice Kueppers and includes more than 100 students.
“They should add on there now that we got RIF notices,” McDonough said. "That's the thanks we get for our successes.”
Last year, the middle school music department competed against high school students throughout the state in the Heritage Music Festival in San Francisco and took home the grand prize— the Festival Sweepstakes Award. The school's Wind Ensemble supervised by Johnson won the silver ranking and first place, and the Chamber Orchestra led by McDonough, won a gold ranking and first place, and Kueppers's team won gold.
“It’s not about the awards,” McDonough said. “It’s about creating something at school that kids want to come to every day. I don’t tell them that playing an instrument is fun, but I tell them that when they are having fun, they will sound really good.”
More than 60 percent of the 1,600 students at the middle school go through the award-winning music program. Principal Donna Tobin said, “I am extremely proud of our music program” and she said she is aware that people are attracted to the school because of it.
They are part of 145 music teachers across the district getting their RIF notices this week in LAUSD.
A Reduction In Force letter means that a teacher could be moved to a different location, or must take a lower classification, or there is no position available. McDonough’s letter said that he could find out by September if he would be eligible for a substitute position. That’s not something that a teacher who worked on Broadway with Stephen Sondheim is likely to do.
“I won’t wait around to be a substitute,” McDonough said. “This school deserves better. There is a strong Music Booster support, and the parents and students are the customers. Shame on the people who made decisions like this to essentially decimate the music program.”
Studio City resident Miriam Clarke had two sons go through the Reed bands.
“When my youngest son moved to Studio City from Kauai in seventh grade, he had some musical background in piano and voice," she said. "Because of the incredibly professional training offered by Ms. Johnson and Mr. McDonough at Walter Reed Middle School, and continued by Mr. [Jeffrey] Brown at North Hollywood High School, he is now an accomplished oboist, alto saxophone player and upright bass player. The opportunities provided by the Walter Reed Instrumental Music Department were vast, and while they included orchestra, band, jazz band and jazz combo, they also provided the chance to participate in the LAUSD Honor Band, bring a trophy home from San Francisco, and perform live jazz with the Thelonious Monk Institute.”
Clarke’s oldest son has his choice of major colleges to study music composition and her youngest son is prepared to play with the North Hollywood High School's Royal Regiment Marching Band, Concert Band, Orchestra and Jazz Band,and has worked as a professional musician.
“Our family has been so greatly enriched by Ms. Johnson, Mr. McDonough and Mr. Brown, and I am heartbroken and stunned that they have all received ‘pink slips,’” Clarke said. “I cannot fathom the short sightedness of this decision. I am, however, resolved to do my best to reverse them.”
Music Booster mom Patty Puskar said she plans to organize the parents to help save their music program.
“We get a lot of bang for the bucks with these teachers, I think Mr. McDonough was there 19 hours alone last Friday working on the school show,” said Puskar, whose daughter worked with the team last year, and who son, Chase, is in Bye Bye Birdie. She said she has a fifth grader she hoped would continue in the Walter Reed music program.
“People are very upset," Puskar said. "The Internet has been buzzing about this. It is not the music program to cut, it has had a lot of good influences on many, many students."
One of those students, Dante Luna, last year was able to perform his own original piece with the Wind Ensemble.
"They worked with me and inspired me to compose," said Luna, 15, who is now the lead percussionist at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts. "Ms. Johnson got me into classical percussion, and Mr. McDonough introduced me to jazz, and now I listen to it every night. Those classes are why I wanted to come to school."
Luna added, "Those teachers opened my eyes to a whole new world, and pushed me towards it."
McDonough said, "I chose a career path to work with this amazing raw talent and cultivate new talents the students didn't know they had. I've got a few good years left at Walter Reed."
Meanwhile, Principal Tobin has called for a meeting with parents on Thursday and Friday this week to discuss the situation.
Also, on Tuesday, at the Board of Education meeting, the school supervisors plan to discuss the arts program. The all-day meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the 333 South Beaudry Avenue, Board Room.
I seriously doubt that a receiver taking over LAUSD in a worst-case fiscal bankruptcy would make such a student-unfriendly, tone deaf and educationally bankrupt decision.