District postpones removal of middle school orchestra program


Photo by Sarosh Ismail

Creek Valley middle schoolers in the beginner orchestra play a Christmas song as a part of their winter concert performance. They had played along with the 7th and 8th graders in the higher orchestra while Michelle Kong, the director at Creek Valley and Arbor Creek, directed both of the orchestra groups.

Following student complaints, the district released a statement on Nov. 15 reversing its decision to consolidate middle school orchestra programs for the 2020-2021 school year. 

At the Nov. 4 board meeting, the idea of removing the orchestra program from Creek Valley was proposed. For around 15 years, the orchestra directors at Creek Valley has also been the directors at Arbor Creek. If the program had been removed, the school’s shared director would stay permanently at Arbor Creek. According to superintendent Dr. Kevin Rogers, finding a director who does not mind the commute between the two schools every day is hard.

“We really felt like the orchestra directors were having problems finding orchestra teachers that wanted to be split,” Rogers said. “[The orchestra program has] never had enough numbers to have a full-time teacher at each school.”

While some students have been disappointed in the decision, the school board has been trying to address a problem they had noticed occurring for the past few years – enrollment. Rogers said the suggestion to combine the Creek Valley and Arbor Creek orchestra programs was because of lower enrollment numbers at both schools.

“[The decision] is based on enrollment, which is based on student’s interest in each particular school,” Rogers said. “Some people see it as getting rid of programs, but we felt like it was trying to help maintain the vibrancy of the programs. It’s not, ‘pick on orchestra,’ it’s ‘hey, how can we be more efficient?’”

According to sophomore Johannah Hans, this discussion spurred both middle school and high school students as they attended the board meeting to show they were against the district’s decision. Students signed petitions, including one made by senior orchestra member April Nguyen which got about 1,500 signatures. 

“When I found out about the Creek Valley [orchestra] program being shut down, I was really upset because it gave me my closest friends and best memories,” Nguyen said. “It broke my heart to find out that that opportunity might be taken away from another child. I’d say that orchestra is more than an organization competing for first place; it’s a family.”

The final decision has been postponed indefinitely, but the board will continue to monitor the enrollment numbers. The school board’s plan was to have the incoming sixth-graders zoned to attend Creek Valley transfer to schools with orchestra programs if that is what the student wants to pursue. So students who attended Creek Valley would have to transfer to Arbor Creek or Killian.

“If I was a sixth-grader, I think I would want to [transfer],” Creek Valley seventh grader Annika Sawant said. “But knowing my dad, it would be too much for him to drive me to a further school every day just to do a program that I don’t even know I like yet. So it’s not really practical for students that have never experienced it before. They probably won’t be willing to take the risk of abandoning all their friends just to go to a new school for a program.”

If fewer middle school students choose to do orchestra, the high school program could also be affected by the reduced numbers. 

“We have a bunch of concerts that involve middle schoolers to come to play with us and that would decrease the number of students that participate,” Hans said. “Also, if the amount of students that are joining orchestra decreases, it’s going to make our orchestra smaller in the future.”

Rogers said as much as the district would love to keep all the orchestra programs, they have to look at the interest of the students. If there are not enough students, then having to pay for a teacher and other things is money that could be going to other programs.

“I’m really proud of the orchestra kids that it means that much to them,” Rogers said. “I’m glad they found something that is their niche and their passion, but I can’t afford to give them full-time teachers [if the enrollment numbers don’t warrant it.]”