Atascadero students and parents worried about rumored changes to the school district's music program had some of their fears put to rest on Tuesday night, after they were told the high school choir program might be cut.
Music students packed the Atascadero Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting to express their concerns about curriculum changes, especially the elimination of chorus classes at Atascadero High School.
Students held signs with messages that read “Music can change the world” and “Save AHS choir! Hire a teacher.”
This year, students have functioned without a permanent choir director.
A substitute and a one-year special credentialed teacher filled the role after the previous instructor left the district at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, according to Beth Klemm, a district choir teacher at the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy.
But Superintendent Tom Butler told parents the program will not be cut and the district will begin searching for a new teacher.
The high school plans to offer two periods of choir and will continue looking for a part-time teacher, he said.
Butler said the development came after he met with the district’s five music teachers this week.
“We’re glad to keep the arts alive in Atascadero,” he said.
Even after Butler spoke, parents and teachers expressed their concerns, saying the district needs to make music education more of a priority.
Nancy Hatfield, a district parent, said choir helps instill confidence in children. She echoed the concerns of other parents and teachers, who said their students would lose the opportunity to qualify for college music scholarships if the program was cut.
"No one would ever eliminate a football program and then expect the students to earn a scholarship," she said.
John Knutson, director of choral studies at Cuesta College, said he's taught many talented singers who are alumni of Atascadero's music program.
"I am here somewhat selfishly to preserve the quality of Cuesta music," he said.
Knutson suggested the district make the position full-time, as finding a part-time teacher in an expensive region can be challenging.
Mariana Garcia, a Cuesta College student who participated in the high school's choir program, said music education helped her grow as a person. She said she's continued her singing career as part of the college's Chamber Singers group.
"Throughout my years in choir, I not only made new friends — I blossomed as an individual," Garcia said.
On Wednesday, Butler told The Tribune the high school now plans to offer three periods of choir after community members expressed concerns about show choir becoming an after-school activity.
The position will remain part-time — the choir director will also teach an elementary school class, bringing it to 63 percent of full time, Butler said.
Students should now be able to sign up for choir classes. Butler said he's optimistic the district will be able to find a new teacher with help from the community.
"It's our intention to have a full choir program at Atascadero High School with a qualified teacher," he said.