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Parents, students push to save music

The Shakadih family thinks so much of the Williamsville Central School District's music program that despite a working-class income, the parents set aside 10 percent of their income to support music programs for their four children.

They've even passed up other job offers to stay in Williamsville because its academic and music programs are second to none, they said.

"Music is an important part of their lives," Crissie Shakadih of her children. "They -- all four -- play instruments."

Shakadih was one of more than two dozen parents and students who once again made strong and personal appeals to the School Board to save music classes and music-related extracurricular programs, many of which are recognized statewide and nationally. Their continued lobbying efforts have turned out dozens of advocates over the past few months.

Tuesday, students spoke movingly and earnestly about having their lives changed by music, of seeing their grades improve, their school attitudes change for the better, and their sense of self-expression and self-confidence take wing.

"Frankly, I hated most parts of school," said Williamsville South freshman Michael Slosman.

But one day, as a third-grader, fourth-graders came to his class and showed students their instruments. Michael became hooked on the bass, and as his playing improved, so did his grades in other classes. He now excels in math, where he once struggled, and has signed up for Advanced Placement classes. "None of this could have been possible without music being in my life," he said.

Some parents marveled at how their otherwise musically empty backgrounds have yielded musically gifted and interested children because of the district's many music program opportunities.

Though neither the superintendent nor the School Board has mentioned any definitive plans to target the district's award-winning music curriculum, orchestras, ensembles or bands, they are among a list of nonmandated programs that are being looked at to help close a $2.4 million budget gap.

At a meeting earlier this month, board members expressed a desire to preserve the district's music program, if possible.

In other business, the board heard a report from Berry Consulting Services on how the district stacks up against other high-performing districts in the state with similar student demographics. Previously, the consultant looked at class sizes and foreign language programs.

The consultant reported Tuesday on the district's administrative staffing levels. Consultant Alan Berry determined that compared with similar districts, as well as state Department of Education statistics and figures on the efficiency of aides, and a Business First administrative efficiency study, Williamsville's administrative staffing levels are appropriate.

"We find Williamsville administrative staffing is among the most efficient and lean of the comparison districts," Berry said. "We do not recommend changes to your leadership structure at this time."