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Orchestra program to continue in Perham schools

The Perham School Board unanimously voted against cutting the orchestra program after a lengthy discussion amongst parents, students, administration and board members at a meeting last week.

Ending orchestra was under consideration during an earlier round of budget cuts as the district examined programs with low numbers - preliminary numbers for next school year show just nine students are preregistered at the high school.

Board member Sue Von Ruden said the board has nothing against the music program, but "any class that has that low of numbers, we question whether we should continue it."

She said they have to ask themselves, "Is it fiscally responsible as a district to continue on" with low count programs?

The hope at the school is that low interest in the orchestra program thus far has been due to things like scheduling conflicts and lack of public knowledge. The board's recent decision to offer more sections of core classes may dissolve some of the scheduling issues.

Board member Myron Roe said he doesn't feel like the music department markets itself well enough. He wondered if parents know of the music programs offered in Perham.

The discussion of how to increase numbers can't stop just because the program wasn't cut, board member Sue Huebsch said: "The music department and principals need to sit down, talk and be creative."

Huebsch encouraged brainstorming to make the orchestra program a success. Some suggestions from the board included: offering orchestra two-thirds of the year or offering it before or after school.

Perham ninth grader Callista Wengel addressed the board on her personal experience with orchestra. She has been in the program since fourth grade and it has been a "refuge" for her. She said cancelling it would affect more than just high school kids, as orchestra is a district-wide program.

Perham graduate Joe Berns echoed the importance of music to him: A decade in the orchestra program made a "big impact in my life," he said. Berns is currently in his junior year at the University of St. Johns, majoring in music, and he hopes to teach orchestra some day.

In a follow-up interview with orchestra instructor Rachel Mertens, she admitted that the orchestra program has lost some of its momentum in recent years, but has hope of increased numbers in years to come. The 2011-12 school year was Mertens' first year, and in years to come she plans on increasing her public relations in the younger grades in hopes to increase interest.

In other news at the meeting, the board approved the hire of Jennifer Huff as elementary physical education instructor, two new special education teachers, Nancy Stromstad and Thomas Stolee, and middle school teacher Brittany Johnson.