Hockinson School District plans to keep music program

Disbandment fears arose as teacher's retirement nears

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Following weeks of disharmony, the Hockinson School District has told parents that it has no plan to disband its K-2 music program.

Teachers and parents feared the program was on the chopping block after the district said earlier in the year it wouldn't replace a music teacher who's scheduled to retire in June.

At a school board meeting Monday, Superintendent Sandra Yager told a packed room of curious district residents that Hockinson would work to keep the music program humming. Next year, after the scheduled retirement, the school district will likely have three remaining music teachers to carry the load.

The district has also discussed reducing choir classes because the number of students interested in taking them has declined. "Choir will be there if the interest is there," Yager said, "just like any other elective."

She characterized what's taking place at the district level as "premature conversations." The district will finalize its schedule for the next school year at the end of May.

The district's talks of restructuring programs are a result of diminishing student enrollment, particularly among elementary-grade students. Part of the district's restructuring will also involve combining its primary and intermediate schools into one K-5 elementary school.

Fewer students

Enrollment at Hockinson Heights Primary School has dropped from 389 in 2010 to 351 in 2012, according to the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Some of those students are part-time. Demographic shifts along with a sluggish economy have contributed the drop, the district says.

An ad hoc group called Save the Music in Hockinson has led the charge in raising awareness about the potential loss of music classes.

Amanda Crumbley, a group organizer, said she came away from Monday's meeting feeling as if the district was making progress. But she won't feel relief until she sees the district's plan in writing.

Still, it's "definitely better than it was when it first came out," Crumbley said.

She said the district's teachers have taken the lead in finding ways to keep music classes for all grade levels.

Retired Hockinson educator Dennise Larson, hired in 1979 as the school district's first full-time music teacher, said she was disheartened to hear that music classes were at the center of scale-back discussions.

Potentially cutting choir would be a major negative for the district, she said. She taught choir for many years when she worked for the district.

Her dream, she said, would be to have an elementary-level music teacher who could also double as the choral director for the high school.

Otherwise, she quipped, "When Hockinson gets to heaven, they won't be singing up there."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.