Been there, done that

I must say I feel for the students, parents and educators who have done their damnedest to effect change in regards to the Norwich City School District’s schedule for the 2011-2012 school year. Their worry? That the schedule, as it stands, will have a decidedly negative impact on the high school’s music program. And they’re absolutely right ... it will.

This is the part where I stick my thumbs in my ears, wiggle my fingers and – not that it makes me happy – tell the district’s Board of Education, as well as its administration that – in the not-too-distant-future – I’ll be able to say “I told you so.”

Not that they’ll listen, I’m afraid. How can I be so sure? Because I went through the same nonsense nearly two decades ago. I know exactly where these (extremely talented) kids are coming from.

In other words, I’ve been there. I’ve done that.

A little history. I joined the NHS Jazz Ensemble way-back-when in the 10th grade. I’ve written before how – on one random afternoon – former music director Don Burke unexpectedly called me into his office. At the time, I figured the poor guy was – to put it mildly – sick of my never-ending use of the school’s music hallway as my own personal rehearsal space (I spent hours there perfecting my novice guitar skills, such as they were). Little did I know, however, the man had plans for me.

It turns out those plans were not only life-changing, but put me on the road to becoming the musician (not to mention the person) I am today. I can’t thank him (as well as Mary Mayo and – to a lesser extent – Mark Sands) enough for that.

To make a long story short, our Jazz Ensemble was – to put it mildly – extremely talented. I can still, to this day, name each and every member of those two groups (my sophomore and junior years at NHS), not to mention the instrument (or instruments) they played. Ours was an impressive unit, once we realized just how good Mr. Burke was at preparing a small group of “squares” and turning them into a swinging, swaggering group of jazzsters. Don’t believe me? Just ask any member of either of those ensembles about our 1993, Sherburne Pageant of the Bands performance of “Fascinating Rhythm” or our rendition of “Pressure Cooker” the following year. That second performance, in fact, broke a long-standing record for jazz ensemble at the pageant, one that had stood for nearly 50 years, if I remember right.

My senior year, however (which should have been spent perfecting what we’d put so much time and effort into the previous two years), found the Norwich City School District making changes to its schedule (what a coincidence). To be more specific, the powers-that-be had neglected to schedule a large number of juniors and seniors into a music or art class prior to their graduation (a requisite at the time). To make up for that lack of foresight, they pegged Mr. Burke for extra duties, which resulted in the disbanding of the Jazz, Percussion, Brass and Wind Ensembles.

We (the school’s actual musicians) were disappointed, to say the least.

And yet, that series of events had a profound impact on my life. For the first time I could remember, someone had taken away something I truly cared for, something personal, something important. I spent the weeks following that decision gathering signatures for what would eventually become “the letter of all letters,” addressed to the school’s administration. When I was ignored, I went the next step, and started climbing the proverbial administration ladder – first the high school principal and – after he shot me down – the district’s superintendent (who also shot me down). Then it was on to the board of education who – you guessed it – shot me down as well.

So I guess you can see where I’m coming from when I say I sympathize for these kids in regards to this latest round of “scheduling changes” at NHS. It’s (scarily) a familiar scenario and one I’m sure will be repeated in the future. Needless to say, these kids are getting the short end of the stick and I can understand (believe me, I can) their frustration, confusion and – ultimately – their anger. The district has failed them, I’m sorry to say. There’s no way around it.

What’s worse is the fact that they don’t seem to give a damn.

It’s sad, really, because these kids are the cream of the crop. They’re some of the brightest, most polite and intelligent students our school has to offer. I’ve gotten to know them well over the past year-and-a-half and – I don’t know any other way to say it – they deserve better.

One of the toughest aspects of my job as a staff writer for The Evening Sun is remaining impartial and unbiased while reporting on a day-to-day basis. Most of the time it’s not so bad, really. Yet once in awhile I have to be careful how I go about my work. I know all too well my tendency for, how shall I say, overindulgence when it comes to my personal opinion.

As a columnist, however, I’m paid to state those opinions, and that’s why I have no problem arguing that – based on everything I’ve seen over the past two months – this district has failed miserably. Make all the excuses you want. Blame it on the economy, the state, whoever. The fact of the matter is this – these kids are forced to rely on the decisions these people make and, unfortunately, no one seems brave enough (hopefully a certain group of people are reading this and paying attention right now) to stand up and say enough is enough.

Except for the kids, of course. Sadly, their collective voice is typically the one that goes unheard the most often. As I said ... I’ve been there.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunbrian.

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