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updated: 4/12/2012 12:35 PM

Lombard middle school making curriculum changes

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The decision to add extra foreign language classes and cut general music next year at Glenn Westlake Middle School was made to meet community needs and prepare students for high school, Lombard Elementary District 44 officials say.

"What we've done is respond to the community and what they want," Superintendent Jim Blanche said. "They said they've wanted more foreign language."

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The number of students who can take either Spanish or French will double next year as part of a curriculum update that aims to help students build math, foreign language and technology skills they'll need in high school, Westlake Principal Phil Wieczorek said.

But parent Wendy Peca said she and others are unhappy with the choice to eliminate the general music classes offered as part of a rotation of humanities in sixth and seventh grade, and also as an option for eighth-graders.

"I will admit some of those changes sound awesome, they really do," Peca said about the district's plan to increase foreign language opportunities, extend the algebra class to two years and begin providing personal laptops for every student with the sixth-grade class entering in fall 2013. "But I don't accept that music is going away."

General music and other courses such as consumer science, industrial technology, computers and art all are offered during one humanities period -- the only period available for students who choose to take a foreign language, Blanche said. The humanities period also allows time for special education students to receive targeted help and for struggling students to participate in either math lab or literacy lab.

With students splitting between so many options, general music and other humanities often have between eight and 15 students.

"It's not fiscally responsible to have class sizes that small, so we needed to make some adjustments in those courses," Wieczorek said.

General music will not be offered next year, study skills will be reduced to one section for sixth-graders and two technology courses will be combined into one. Two teaching positions will be eliminated with the curriculum changes.

While general music will be cut, the band and orchestra programs as well as the extracurricular chorus program will remain. The district will hire a new teacher to lead the chorus program, Wieczorek said, because the current teacher's position is being cut.

Peca, who has a 13-year-old daughter, Emma, in seventh grade at Westlake and an 11-year-old son, Nathan, in fifth grade at Pleasant Lane Elementary, said students began hearing rumors about the loss of the music teacher two weeks before the district explained the changes in a letter. She said the district could have handled the situation better providing information earlier instead of letting the rumor mill run.

Peca said she's planning a parent meeting for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Church of the Nazarene, 536 N. Columbine Ave., Lombard, to discuss a strategy for sharing concerns with the school board and attempting to get general music reinstated.

Personally, Peca said she's worried the changes will affect the chorus Emma participates in.

"I'm finding it hard to believe that choir won't change," Peca said. "No matter if the times are the same, the repertoire is the same and the music is the same, the program still won't be the same because the teacher won't be there."

"I hope it will be different positively," she said. "Only time will tell."

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