Northgate plans music program expansion

[This article has been updated to include clarifications and further comments by those involved.]

Educators in the Northgate School District are working on a plan to expand music education to the point that it not only becomes a part of the core curriculum at every grade level, but that Northgate becomes a “destination” school district for music education.

Director of Curriculum and Assessment Shaun Tomaszewski said that the idea developed after a conversation with school board member Michael Rajakovic, who had studied music at every level of his education. Although Rajakovic was not involved in the design of the new program, he expressed appreciation for expanded music education at a recent board meeting, according to Tomaszewski.

At this time, choral music at the elementary level is only a voluntary after-school activity.

“To me, that's just unacceptable,” Tomaszewski said.

He wants to incorporate chorus and instrumental music education into the elementary curriculum, with general music classes for students in grades K-3, and classes that will include vocal and instrumental lessons for students in grades 4-6.

The music program at the middle/senior high school will remain much the same, with both chorus and band offered as electives, but in the future prioritized in students' schedules.

With the size of both the chorus and band at Northgate High School dwindling, Tomaszewski said,educators hope that introducing music more formally at the elementary level will result in greatly increased participation in both at the high school level. Middle/senior high school music and chorus teacher Kelly Winovich says, however, that participation in chorus is not decreasing at all. She said that there now are 84 middle and senior high school students participating, with more wanting to be involved but unable to do so because of scheduling.

Instrumental music at the elementary level will include piano and percussion in addition to traditional “marching band” type instruments, Tomaszewski said. The district already is looking into programs that could provide instruments, or at least subsidize their cost.

Although the program should go into effect in the next school year, it is still very much a work in progress, as Northgate's three music teachers work with administrators to develop the curriculum. Despite the current “under construction” status of the program, rumors have circulated among middle/senior high school students who became alarmed that they might lose their access to MS/HS music/chorus teacher Kelly Winovich.

Northgate currently employs three music teachers: Winovich, who teaches at the MS/HS; Jessica Haberman, who teaches instrumental music at the MS/HS and elementary schools; and Rochelle Russo, who teaches music at the elementary level.

Tomaszewski said the music program expansion will necessarily involve some different assignments for the teachers, including Winovich. He acknowledged that she would be “physically present” at the MS/HS less often, but noted that her schedule includes a number of “non-teaching” periods that can be utilized elsewhere. When Winovich reported that she teaches a full seven periods each day, Tomaszewski said that there had been some miscommunication, but admitted that the middle school general music classes currently taught by Winovich will be taught by Russo next year.

Superintendent Dr. Caroline Johns said that Winovich's chorus students will still be taught by her, and will continue their community service performances.

The goal, however, is to have the teachers “more equitably distributed across the three schools,” Tomaszewski said.

He said that the Northgate School District has a lot of “raw talent” that Winovich has proved capable of developing at the high school, and which could be equally valuable at the elementary level.

Johns told students that she would meet with them once the program details are in place.