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School board discusses music education

musicBy Jacqueline M. Dotzenrod

You may not expect to hear a philosophical discussion at a school board meeting, but that’s just the sort of discussion the board heard at its regular meeting last Tuesday night.

“We have certainly been given some things to consider tonight,” board president Keith Gohdes said.

Central Cass music teacher Mrs. Paloma Patnode has come under criticism for rapidly declining enrollment in the school’s band program. The board heard from Patnode as well as parents of students regarding differing philosophies of teaching music.

“When I was a student, we played our instruments the whole hour,” parent David Pieper said. “I think there’s a totally different philosophy that’s being taught now and I disagree with it. In the past, our band had been performing the music correctly and it was sounding good.”

But just as a new set of eyes on an issue can spot formerly unseen problems, so can a new set of ears.

Patnode is in her first year of teaching at Central Cass and stood before the board stating that when she was hired, she was instructed by principal Steve Lorentzen to strengthen the band program because he had felt that the quality dropped.

Board member Scott Kost asked Patnode what deficiency she saw in the band program when they seem to have been performing well in concerts and competition.

While the final product may have come out sounding quite good, the students were lacking an understanding of musical concepts, she replied.

An example Patnode gave the board to illustrate the issue compared the subjects of music and language. In language class, students learn how to read and write, not just recite literature.

“That’s not how we accept teaching in the subject of English, so why would we expect that of music,” Patnode said. “You have to take a step back and teach a student how to read.”

With the Central Cass band program, Patnode stated that when she started, she observed a majority of students able to “recite” music (play back what they hear) rather than read music proficiently.

“On the first Monday of the year, I passed out a band assessment,” she said. “It wasn’t graded, only for diagnostic purposes. That information helps a director know what level of music to buy and know where to start. It was information I felt like I needed.”

Patnode intends to give the same assessment at the end of the school year. But to show the board how the students are doing, she gave the students the assessment, unannounced in class the school day before the meeting.

“From the first assessment, I was surprised to see how low the scores were,” she said. “I came in with assumption that high school students should at least be in line with where eighth graders should be in the national and state standards.”

The standards Patnode refers to are the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction Standards and Benchmarks. The full document Patnode presented to the board can be accessed at the ND DPI web site – http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/content.shtm.

“I’m not sure how long ago, but it’s my understanding that this board has adopted these standards and we should be following them in our teaching,” Patnode added.

From the assessment, Patnode found that the Central Cass band students were severely lacking in understanding of musical concepts. She took it upon herself to build that knowledge in the students to meet the standards set by the board and by the state.

“In the first three days, I became acquainted with the students going over the rules and gave them a calendar of scheduled events,” she said. “I made it clear that there would be quizzes and outside practice expectations of two hours each week. The students had indicated that this is something that hadn’t been done before.”

Mrs. Patnode also presented a diagram representing Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Theory, which states that objectives set for students are like a flight of stairs. Each step builds on the previous one and if that previous step is not sturdy, the next step will not be solid.

“From the results of the assessment, I saw it was imperative that I solidify those lower steps,” she said. “The mind has to be programmed like a computer. In order to get to those higher levels of ability, you have to understand the basic concepts first and in order to teach some of this stuff, it does require some verbal communication.”

In her class, the students went beyond playing their instruments into learning about music theory as well. As the second assessment showed, Patnode’s teaching efforts paid off with significant improvements in scores, but those improvements have come at a cost.

“What’s happening is the students are used to a different style of teaching and I am emphasizing things they are not used to emphasizing,” she said. “I was asked to raise the quality, which Mr. Lorentzen said had been dropping, and that is exactly what I set out to do. This assessment shows that I have been moving in that direction.”

Patnode reported that on the first day of school, 64 students were enrolled in the band program. By the third day, with the announcement of the new expectations, enrollment had dropped to 52 students. By the end of the first semester, 49 students remained enrolled in band. Another 16 students dropped band between semesters, bringing the band down to 33 current members.

“I think we’re really falling short as a school if we can’t find a way to get these kids back in band,” Pieper said.

With nearly 50 percent of the year’s initial band class withdrawing, parents have become increasingly concerned.

“I’ve been a longtime citizen of Casselton and music is a love of mine,” parent Wanda Mangin said. “However, I do have some issues with this year’s band instruction. While music theory is important, in the end if students cannot perform well and be proud of what they’re doing, I think the students have really lost.

“As a teacher, much of the job is to inspire and I don’t see that happening. I don’t doubt there’s music intelligence, but there is a lack of musical inspiration.”

Another parent, Ann Ueland gave the board another point to consider.

“There are students that are in band that take difficult courses throughout the whole day,” she said. “Being in band gives them a chance to learn in a different way. It helps them become more well-rounded.

“I think Central Cass should offer the best program we can offer. On that note, I don’t think every program is right for Central Cass. I would urge the board to consider what sort of band program is right for Central Cass.”

Patnode has also been teaching to the standards in the middle school and junior high band classes

“When you take older kids who are used to a different style of teaching, it’s more difficult to make those changes,” Patnode said. “One example is taking care of instruments. Those high school kids never clean their instrument. I don’t think they understand the significance of doing it, just as they may not understand the significance of the other fundamentals I’ve been teaching. If you teach them those things when they’re young, it becomes habit.

“With time, I believe this program can be as strong or stronger than it has been in the past. I truly believe that what I’m doing will strengthen the program, but it takes time.”
In other discussion Tuesday:

A cooperative agreement between the Central Cass and Mapleton school districts has received a preemptive veto by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

Tom Decker with the ND DPI contacted Central Cass superintendent Michael Severson to inform him that a cooperative agreement with Maple Valley would be denied, though a proposal hasn’t officially been brought before the DPI.

In an unrelated matter, the board unanimously passed the sexual offender policy after the second reading of the document. No changes were made from the first reading, which was given at the previous meeting.

The policy is the same as that recommended by the state which states sexual offenders may only be on school property to vote or to attend a public meeting. Any other instances require a special provision from the superintendent. For those interested in reviewing the policy, it is available at the school.

Later in the evening, Chris Bastian delivered the elementary principal’s report.

“It’s been a busy month,” he said.

The elementary had visits from a Burlington-Northern/Santa-Fe Railroad, school resource officer Greg Dawkins, HawkEye with the FM RedHawks, as well as Smoky Bear and Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean.

Bastian also announced that he is running for vice president of the North Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals. He has since won that position.

In other announcements:

The Central Cass music department will be performing The Sound of Music on April 10, 11 and 13. The Friends of Fine Arts will be hosting their second annual “Chair-ity” event on April 18.

Severson extended congratulations and informed the board of several achievements by Central Cass organizations and individuals.

– Students Steve Schultz placed first and Derek Drege placed second in the marketing/management event at the Business and Information Technology Day at Valley City State University.

– Central Cass Casseltinas dance team placed fourth in the North Dakota Association of Dance and Drill Competition. The team also received a certificate of scholastic achievement from the NDHSAA for the team earning a 3.2 GPA.

– The Central Cass wrestling team placed third in the dual tournament in Larimoure. Coach Travis Lemar was named Region 1 co-coach of the year.

Severson gave the board a staffing update.

“We’re working on making sure everything is set for next year,” he said. “We’ll have recommendations at our March meetings as to how we’re going to staff the school.”

The board accepted a resignation letter from high school science teacher Theodore Darwin, who has taught at Central Cass for 34 years.

Severson also informed the board that principal Lorentzen will be returning from medical leave the week of Feb. 18.

Originally published in “The Cass County Reporter”

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