Nearly four-dozen people turned out Friday afternoon to protest the potential loss of the music program at Whittell High School.
Slightly more than half of those in attendance spoke during the public comment portion of a special meeting the Douglas County School District Board of Trustees held at Carson Valley Middle School.
Lifelong Douglas County resident Kevin Kjer noted that his experience of having served on the KIDS bond committee in 2008 was an example of leaders from the Lake and Valley working together to pass a bond.
“I am hoping the Valley and the Lake can work together again to keep Whittell High School performing at the high level we have all come to expect,” said Kjer, a 1985 Whittell graduate and son of former Douglas County Commissioner Ken Kjer. “It appears to me that the last couple of years we have begun to slip backward, yet our staffing continues to be cut. I think we have reached a point where we need to stop cutting and start increasing the attention Whittell needs and deserves. I want our school to be ranked second or even first in Nevada because of help from the Douglas County School District.
“Two areas where the district can help include keeping our music program with a full time music-choir teacher and providing a vice principal with the daunting task of running both a middle and high school. Please, let’s work together and keep Whittell High School on the right track.”
Nancy Gardner spoke as a Douglas County resident for more than 50 years who watched her own two children attend Whittell (Rick and Kelley), as well as four grandchildren (one of whom will graduate next year). She urged trustees consider making no cuts at Whittell … to create the position of a full-time music program and to replace the vice-prinicpal position.
“I am here today because I am concerned and I care,” she said.
“I have sat where you sit and I understand the issues,” said Gardner, adding that she served on the Douglas County school board in the 1970s along with such members as Arnold Settelmeyer, Clay Johnson and Jim Swisher. “So many of the issues you are facing today are the same ones we were faced with in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Gardner said she understands Whittell is being required to cut back on staff leading to a decision to cut the music program.
“This concerns me greatly,” she said. “A few years ago two full-time teachers were cut, Kingsbury Middle School was closed with the promise that education would be better because the schools would run more efficiently. Whittell would get a an assistant vice-principal and that would be the success factor … today, there is no vice-principal at Whittell High School. Then, somehow, Whittell ended up with three half-time positions. Isn’t that a scheduling nightmare?”
Whittell High School sophomore Gabriel Rusk spoke to trustees about how band and choir has enhanced his educational experience from a social— “I’ve made a lot of friends from this program” — and educational standpoint.
“It’s something I plan on incorporating into my future and something I need to incorporate because it’s a major part of getting you into college, so it’s definitely something I want to be part of,” Rusk said.
The Strategic Plan revisions item was postponed after the lengthy public comment session (more than one hour) and rescheduled for May 22.
Superintendent Lisa Noonan said that the Whittell music teacher Travis Walls is on an 80 percent contract and teaches four classes. Walls plans to move out of the area.
At the same time students are signing up for classes, and so far there are only enough signed up for music for one class, she said.
“Signing up for classes includes a first choice and a second choice, where students are weighing in on what they would like,” she said. “That happens whether you’re at Douglas or Whittell.”
Noonan said that so far only 25-30 students have signed up for music.
“If we replaced the music teacher, what do we do with the other three periods of the day?” she asked. “How many music teachers are going to apply for that job with a 20 percent contract with no benefits and no prep time?”
According to district records, Walls has 45 students across his four periods, including 22 in his largest class and 10 in his smallest.
There is a possibility the school could rebuild the drama program using the existing staff.
There are 16 teachers at Whittell with four on part-time contracts. Noonan said that if the school were staffed at the same rate as Douglas High, there would be eight teachers.
“I understand their issue,” she said. “They say ‘I want my kid to go to a good college and that college wants to see some things that the kids have done.’”
Combined Whittell and Zephyr Cove Elementary School have 388 students, or the same number as attend Minden Elementary School.
“This is an issue throughout the Tahoe Basin,” Noonan said. “Student populations are shrinking.”
R-C Editor Kurt Hildebrand contributed to this story