Batavia school board hears pleas to keep orchestra teacher

Updated 4/23/2019 11:07 PM

Students and parents begged the Batavia school board to have a full-time orchestra teacher at Rotolo Middle School next school year. And they want it to be Chris Griffith, the one who has taught there the last three years but was given a layoff notice last month.

About 20 spoke during a half-hour comment period at Tuesday's board meeting. Two students cried.


Several were not happy with the district's plan, revealed last week, to have an orchestra-qualified teacher work at the middle school part time.

That teacher, high school teacher Alison Liska, had planned to quit the district entirely, according to the personnel report the board approved Tuesday.

One student pointed out that enrollment in orchestra has increased since 2015, even as school enrollment declined.

Griffith does not have tenure. The district gave layoff notices to 23 teachers in March, saying it believed a projected enrollment decline merited it. School districts have to give such honorable-dismissal notices in March. They often end up refilling positions over the summer.

Some speakers said a half-time teacher would not be enough to conduct group lessons and sectional rehearsals, and that the quality of the program would decline.

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While the band and chorus teachers are certified to teach orchestra, they may not have experience in orchestra instruments, such as stringed instruments, the speakers said. One parent said lower-income students who cannot afford private lessons would be especially hurt.

Several parents, including Amy Pavnica, compared it to seeing a physician, in that you wouldn't see a dermatologist or orthopedist to treat a heart problem. The school will continue to have three band teachers and one chorus teacher.

"A message is being sent out, whether it is intended or not, that orchestra is a stepchild of the music program," Pavnica said.

"This board is very, very committed to having really strong music programs," board President Cathy Dremel said before public comments began.

Several students played their instruments outside before the meeting.

The district will still have a full-time fifth-grade orchestra teacher, and a full-time orchestra teacher at the high school.

"You don't always get what you want, but we are doing the best we can for your students," board member Sue Locke said, thanking speakers for their comments.

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