The Parsons USD 503 board approved the creation of a new music teacher position at the elementary level.

Parsons High School choir teacher Aaron Burke approached the board on Monday about adding the position.

More than a year ago, Burke was asked what would help boost the middle school and high school choral, band and orchestra classes.

“This is the answer to that question,” he said.

Burke surveyed 29 elementary schools throughout Southeast Kansas to see what they offered in comparison to Parsons elementary schools.

“I was surprised we were near the bottom or at the bottom in this part of the state, which is probably one of the lowest areas in the state,” Burke said. 

From kindergarten through fifth grade, with the exception of one other school that has made changes to music time because of COVID-19, Parsons elementary schools offer the least amount of music time to students, with only 30 to 40 minutes offered each week. Most other schools offered from 60 to 90 minutes, with around 26% to 30% offering more than 90 minutes each week.

Burke said the district can hire another elementary music teacher and structure the two positions as K-2 and 3-5 with all grades having music at least 80 minutes a week. Lincoln could go three times for 30 minutes each, or some kind of rotation, like other schools are doing. Garfield and Guthridge students could handle two 40 to 45 minute classes a week. 

Currently, whoever is hired as the high school band teacher is being forced to try to divide attention between the high school and elementary schools. This is causing dissatisfaction with the position and resulting in it being a revolving door, with teachers coming and going almost annually.

With someone teaching elementary and then trying to go teach top level choir at high school, elementary is not where their focus is going to be, Burke said.

“I’ve been around forever and seen these programs. You know, if you have a really good music teacher, yes, but many times, music in the elementary school is for the sake of the teacher, a planning period. And that’s the way teachers see it, I do believe, I know, and students quite often, somewhat, have behavior problems if the teacher is not really in to it,” board member Roger Duroni said. “Because we used to have music.”

“And a teacher in every building,” Burke added. “It’s been a while since we hired an elementary music person, but there is a large pool. I look at K-State because that is where I graduated, and there is more graduating in elementary right now than secondary.”

And other schools already have music teachers.

“Literally, every school around us has more. There’s something to that, you know,” Burke said.

Board member Joan Thompson said having someone in the position who cares could really ignite something inside of students to know they really do like music.

“Music does develop the whole learning mind, and the soft skills are really important that they learn with that,” Thompson said. “I think it helps teach the whole brain if we could have more music.”

“The opportunity for collaboration with their normal classroom teacher is higher when they are there more often,” Burke said. “It’s just a matter of acting on it and getting it in place. If you want good numbers in a band program and you want growing numbers in orchestra or choir, to answer your question from over a year ago, this is how you do it.

“This will allow scheduling freedom for all elementary schools, more success for 503 music as a whole, the ability to keep the orchestra teacher teaching orchestra, the choir teacher teaching choir, the secondary band teacher teaching secondary instrumental and band. This allows for a more successful program, and of course, gives the children the adequate amount of elementary music education if we are comparing to other areas of the district in KMEA (Kansas Music Education Association).”

Burke said the additional music teacher would be available to help cover lunch or recess duty and could assist in forming a fifth grade band or elementary choir if time allowed. Elementary choir is included in KMEA events and is something a lot of schools in the area do.

This would also help to be able to organize the elementary concerts and even do small “productions” for their concerts given the ability to focus all of their attention on elementary music.

“So my proposal is to look into hiring another elementary school music person,” Burke said. “Back to the data, I think it is surprising we teach half as much as somebody 1 mile away, or 8 miles away, or 30 miles away, or an hour and a half away.”

Board member Lou Martino, a former high school teacher, said when he first came to PHS, the music program, drama and debate programs were tops.

“I haven’t seen anything like that in a long, long time, and what has happened is over the years, the programs because of budget cuts and other unforeseen circumstances, the program’s gone down.

“You can build this up and have a quality program. … When I had the gifted program, almost every student had vocal or instrumental music as well as debate because it teaches self-discipline,” Martino said. “For me, now is the time to spark that program and get it back to where it was and even better.”

“I agree,” Burke said.

In the end, the entire board agreed, and approved the new position being formed.

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