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Letters to the editor: Park High School orchestra program

Student: Others deserve wonderful orchestra experience

I understand that significant changes may be made to the Park High School orchestra program for the upcoming school year — changes regarding teaching and leadership. As a senior who has gone through the district orchestra program, I disagree with these changes.

Over the past three years, the Park orchestra has improved immensely because of the direction that it is under. My experience in the program because of this direction has been incredible. The welcoming classroom atmosphere and great teaching has helped me to increase my confidence as not only a musician, but also in other classes and activities that I'm involved in. I have more fun playing the violin than I ever have because of how enjoyable class is every day. Because of the experience that I have had, I have a love and passion for music that I've never had before, and for this I am very thankful.

This program has improved so much, and it will continue to be successful without any changes being made. Why try to fix something that isn't broken? Incoming Park orchestra students deserve to have the wonderful experience that I have had.

Kailie McGuigan

Cottage Grove

Park High School senior

Support a growing orchestra program

I wanted to express a deep concern that I have regarding the future of the Park High School orchestra program. There has been a decision made to not renew our current director's contract. Why is this disturbing? The requirements and expectations required of a teacher in Minnesota, from my standpoint, have been met.

This director has grown the program by 300 percent in three short years. The students have learned respect and responsibility via this class, unlike any other program. An example of this is when a substitute was needed. Of course this sub could not teach orchestra; what did these kids do? What did their director instill in them? They ran the class. They pulled out their work and a student led the group and then they broke out into working groups. There is no advanced placement or International Baccalaureate studies group that would ever do this; I know because my daughter is in those classes. Those classes do not compare to the structure and discipline this director has set as an expectation, to which they follow. Why? Because there is mutual respect. This program has also kept students at Park instead of going to PSEO or transferring to another school.

I find it interesting that the district, from what I have been told, is encouraging programs that frankly are seeing a drop in participation but there is a decision to change an immensely successful program. Why would a district who wants to grow enrollment see a program that is growing 300 percent and is successful and want to make a drastic change? This program was the only thing that would have kept my child from going to PSEO, which is a financial loss to the district, and if this change goes through her decision will be much easier.

This is not just the sentiment from my daughter. I was surprised to hear that statement repeatedly. To me, it makes sense to support and retain growing programs that the community and students want to see continue instead of a continued emphasis to enroll in programs that are not what students want.

Jodi Caswell

Cottage Grove

Parental presence suggests support for orchestra

On March 14, the Park High School orchestra performed a concert. The music was well chosen and prepared by the group. The performances by both orchestras were beautiful. I would like to encourage members of the community to attend an orchestra concert at Park in the future as both the players and leadership have talent.

I am dismayed to hear that there is a pending change with the orchestra program and am confused by it. The program has grown considerably the past three years as has the complexity of the scores. The students are willing to be challenged and put in the hard work to sound great.

If there is an issue with the program, enrollment would be down and not up. If there is an issue with the program, there would not have been such a large parental presence at the school board meeting on March 16 asking for the program to remain as it is. Last, if there is an issue with the program, my student would have abandoned​ her violin for another art class.

I urge the school district not to make the change to the Park High School orchestra program.

Karen Washburn-Maki

Cottage Grove

Keep Park orchestra success story successful

On March 14, I had the pleasure of attending an informal 'Pi Day' concert at Park High School. I was amazed by the growth of the program and the growth in the students' skills over the last three years.

After the concert, an email chain began circulating to orchestra parents informing us that the man behind that growth and improvement would not be in his place at the school next fall. It came as a shock to us and to our students on Wednesday morning, when they were informed. We were in an information vacuum. It was news to all of us, and there had been no hint of any reason for it. The only other thing we'd heard was that the principal planned to post the job opening in three weeks time, meaning the position would still be there, but not the talented, knowledgeable, engaging leader who had grown the program and ignited a passion for learning and making music among our children.

Letters to the principal yielded no further information and no hope or suggestions for how we could preserve the cherished educational program.

On March 16, a crowd of Park orchestra students and parents attended the regular District 833 School Board meeting to make public comments in support of the program and to demonstrate why we believe it would be detrimental to our community to lose our conductor/teacher.

We still do not have any explanation for the proposed staffing change. I urge interested community members to watch and listen to the public comments from the school board meeting available on the district website. The relevant comments begin at 24 minutes into the meeting.

It is readily apparent that parents and students credit the growth and improvement in our orchestra to its conductor, Joshua Kimball, and the educational environment he has created. I urge the community to communicate its support for this fantastic program to the school board and to the Park High School principal. No one is asking for more money from taxpayers. We just want to keep an educational success story successful.

John P. Cuzzourt

Cottage Grove

Hear our voice: Keep orchestra program intact

More than two dozen parents and students attended the District 833 School Board meeting last week to voice their support for the Park High School orchestra program and its leadership. A decision has been made, and a process set in motion, that will replace the leadership of the orchestra.

As the school board meeting opened, the district logo caught my eye. The phrase "Igniting a Passion" is the district's motto. The current director of the Park orchestra is a teacher with a passion both for teaching music and teaching young adults. The evidence of this is not only the testimony of parents and students at the school board meeting, but also in more objective measures such as program participation and the difficulty level of the music being performed.

Students outside of the orchestra appreciate this teacher for his outgoing and friendly nature. From the testimony that was heard it is obvious that this teacher exemplifies the district motto and is igniting passion in our students.

The parents of music, art and language programs are often active in promoting school district referendums as these programs are the most often threatened. Now we are asking the district to hear our voice. Please keep the Park orchestra program intact.

James and Vicki Donlin

Cottage Grove

Orchestra change painful for all involved

Park High School is not renewing the orchestra teacher's contract. Joshua Kimball has made that program excel. The number of students has increased and the level of difficulty in music has increased.

The students adore, respect and strive to do well. The school has not asked for any parent or student input, which they have on other issues, nor have they informed students or parents what to expect. This has been a painful event for all involved and it is compounded by the lack of communication by Park administration. This is not how things like this should be handled, especially in regard to the impact on the students. I doubt the District 833 School Board members would want their children treated this way. Many orchestra students and parents attended the school board meeting March 16 and some spoke their feeling and concerns. Why would a successful program just end? The teacher made it what it is today. We are all praying and hoping that this is reconsidered for all involved. It should not be up to one person to just squelch a successful program.

Sue Caliguire

St. Paul Park

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600
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