Parents organize to keep music in schools Advocacy group sounds alarm against proposals to cut arts

June 02, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel's music advocates have launched an assault on the recommendations of a county middle school panel that would have made General Patton proud.

During one weekend in April, the Music Advisory Committee reached hundreds of parents who packed a Monday night meeting to protest the possibility that general music classes in middle schools would end.

By mid-May, thousands of parents organized a letter-writing campaign, publicized the phone numbers of school board members and deluged James V. Foran, an instructional director and chief of the middle schools task force with their opinions before the report was released.

They expect to jam the school board hearing room Wednesday when the task force formally presents its recommendations, which also would cut back art, home economics, technology education courses and others to allow more time for courses aimed at increasing standardized test scores.

The board is not expected to vote on the proposal for several months.

The task force goals are to increase from 200 to 240 minutes a day the time devoted to core academic subjects because eighth-grade Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test scores are weak. Yet there is dissent on the task force, with about one-third of its 30 members drafting a minority report that will question the majority's rationale.

The Music Advisory Committee is a little-known advocacy group formed two years ago that did little more than meet over doughnuts to plan trips to concerts.

Behind it, however, are the music booster organizations of every high school and middle school. In some schools, nearly half the student population participates in some aspect of performing arts.

The groups' organizational skills have been finely tuned over the years out of the need to raise money for uniforms and instruments and to take musical groups on out-of-state trips.

People have to be able to place a few quick phone calls that multiply exponentially.

"When you take 200 children to Florida and you don't know what time the bus is going to get back, you have to be organized," said Thomas Mosser of Riva, one of the triumvirate that heads the Music Advisory Committee.

"All it takes is about three phones to move into 30, then those 30 move into 300. Phone trees -- they work," said Ruth Pettrey, president of the Severna Park Middle School Band Boosters and a private music teacher.

The network has given John Birkenheuer,, another music committee chief, the ability to do what he did Thursday: place one phone call and reach 1,500 people in his Severna Park community in a few hours.

Music advocates have taken advantage of every opportunity to get their message out. Mosser, for example, warned about 600 proud parents at a Central Middle School concert of the task force's leanings. He was counting on them to take the message to the elementary schools of their younger children and talk to their friends and relatives.

In addition, the music boosters, many of whom no longer have children in school, are calling on their connections in PTAs, in the mammoth athletic booster groups and in their neighborhoods. That allowed Birkenheuer to win the support of Fran Korwek, president of the Severna Park High School Athletic Boosters.

"When I speak [Wednesday], I am going to be speaking for over 3,500 families," says Birkenheuer.

Tomorrow, the music committee will meet to decide its Wednesday lineup, likely to be a few generals addressing the board backed by an army of quiet parents who will pack the Board of Education meeting room.

By fall, reliance on word-of-mouth will be less. The Music Advisory Committee expects to launch a World Wide Web site on the Internet.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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