Parents push to save job of school's music teacher Position is in jeopardy through redistricting

May 20, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The possibility of losing a music teacher at Westminster West Middle School because of redistricting has parents worried that the quality of the school's music program will suffer.

Determined to keep orchestra director Amy Zimmerman on the music faculty at the school, a group of about four parents went to Westminster West Middle's annual spring concert last night to enlist the support of other parents and students.

"We orchestra parents have to be the vocal minority," said Debbie Finch, who handed out bright orange fliers that read "Save the String Specialist Save the Orchestra" to concertgoers at the school.

The music teacher's supporters asked parents to sign and return the fliers to Westminster West Middle.

For the past three years, Zimmerman has taught string instruments -- violin, viola, cello and bass -- and conducted the school's two orchestras.

"We want the administration to know that we're so proud to have this string specialist and there has to be another way to resolve the staffing issue," said Finch. Her daughter is taught by Zimmerman, and her son, a member of the Westminster High School orchestra, studied with Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, 25, teaches part time at Westminster West Middle, Friendship Valley Elementary and Westminster Elementary schools. Before last night's concert, she declined to comment on the parents' effort.

"I have three violinists, so she is really important to us," said Melanie Many, a parent, after reading the flier last night.

Many's seventh-grader studies with Zimmerman, her high-schooler played violin in middle school and her fifth-grader is looking forward to following in the musical footsteps of her older sisters.

"She made us sound better," said Catherine Johnson, Many's 15-year-old daughter, who now plays violin in the Westminster High orchestra.

Parents said they learned that Zimmerman's position might be eliminated because crowded Westminster West Middle School will lose about 100 students and some staff next year as a result of new boundary lines approved by the school board last month.

"I think they ought to look at cutting back on football coaches before they cut back on anybody who teaches instrumental music," said another Westminster West parent, Lloyd Helt, whose daughter plays flute in the school's music program.

Michael Bell, the principal of Westminster West Middle School, refused to comment on whether Zimmerman's position is being eliminated or if she is being reassigned because of redistricting. He said it is a personnel matter.

"Obviously, I want to keep as many staff as I can," he said.

Gregory C. Eckles, director of secondary schools, said that when redistricting sends students to other schools, teachers follow, too, based on the established county ratio of 25 students to one teacher.

Under that policy, if 100 students leave Westminster West Middle, then four full-time teachers will also leave.

Eckles said the principal at an affected school recommends staff changes.

"You've got to look at the openings and what's needed at other schools," Eckles said.

Westminster West Middle is one of the most crowded county schools, with 1,220 enrolled and a capacity of 975. The new boundary lines are expected to reduce enrollment to 1,130.

Parents said that having a teacher who specializes in string instruments has elevated the orchestra students' level of musicianship at Westminster West Middle.

"That string specialist makes such a difference with the quality of the orchestra," said Finch.

"I've really seen a lot of growth, and I think that's a credit to the continuity of the program," said Finch, referring to Zimmerman's work with elementary students who go on to Westminster West Middle.

Mark Lortz, the orchestra and band director at Westminster High, said 15 of the 35 string players in the school orchestra were students of Zimmerman's. He predicted that his music program will suffer if Westminster West Middle loses its string specialist.

"If she does a good job, then our group does a good job," he said. "I've seen a great improvement in the string students coming through her program."

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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