Wilmette schools may lose choir director, but School Board commits to choir program
Initial plans from Wilmette Public Schools District 39 to reduce full-time creative arts staffing at Highcrest Middle School and Wilmette Junior High have some community members hoping for a change of tune before next school year.
During a May 15 committee of the whole session, administrators walked the D39 School Board through preliminarily staffing plans . Dr. Heather Glowacki, the district’s assistant superintendent, told board members that the district was “overstaffed” in the creative arts department in grades 5-8.
Glowacki preceded the administration’s staffing intentions by detailing projected enrollment for the 2023-24 school year, which she said offers administrators a starting point for staffing needs.
District 39 enrollment is projected to decrease again next school year, officials said. Enrollment has decreased by more than 350 students from August 2019 (3,522 students) to August of 2023 (3,156), according to information from the district.
District officials also examined student enrollment in core and noncore classes, which include creative arts, as part of their planning process for next year, administrators said.
“When you have student enrollment going down, less students are attending the creative arts classes,” Glowacki said, adding that the district is prioritizing maintaining student preference when considering creative arts staffing.
“There is an opportunity right now to lessen our (full-time staff) within creative arts still with an eye toward maintaining student preference and having students have the opportunity to take classes that they’re interested in,” Glowacki said. “So there likely will be a decrease in that creative arts (full-time staff).”
Following its May 15 session, the board received multiple comments from community members fearing that the district’s choir programs were in jeopardy.
District officials and board members reassured residents Monday, May 22, during the board’s regular meeting that choir programs will not be eliminated.
“For those of you who are here to advocate for choir, please know that choir is not being eliminated,” School Board President Erin Stone said near the onset of the meeting. “There are no plans to eliminate choir at Highcrest or Wilmette Junior High. Choir will continue to be offered before school at Highcrest and as a creative arts option during the school day at Wilmette Junior High.”
Administrators also delivered a follow-up presentation, offering additional confirmation that choral programs will continue but noting that fewer sections will be offered next year due to lower enrollment.
“Because we have less students enrolled at Wilmette Junior High this coming year, we do not need to offer as many sections of creative arts classes as we have been in the past,” Glowacki said. “More importantly, we’re talking about sections, not the actual types of classes.
“We are and have been committed to offering chorus in grades five through eight. Chorus at Highcrest is offered before school two mornings a week for each grade. This will continue next school year. At Wilmette Junior High, chorus is a creative arts class within the school day. There will be one period of seventh grade chorus and one period for eighth-grade chorus next year.”
During public comment, tight residents showcased support for the choral programs in District 39. Several commenters also expressed their disappointment in the impending departure of Ethan Kohring, the choir director at Highcrest and Wilmette Junior High, and urged the board to fund a new choral director position.
The board of education approved Kohring’s resignation, which becomes effective at the end of this school year, during its March 20 meeting, according to district records.
“I am aware that we are not cutting choir but we are eliminating the position of the choir director and that is what I’m concerned about,” Julie Hanahan said, adding that losing “the cohesion of one choir director and what that creates for children” is also of concern to her.
“Musicals at the park district are subject to auditions and selection, (choir) is something that the kids can sign up for and get trained. Not every music teacher is a choral teacher and a choral director. And while it might be within their endorsements, I am concerned that it will not be within their speciality. I hope that you consider what it is that we’re trying to accomplish by saving this salary and if that savings is worth the potential detriment to some of our kids.”
Kimberly Newman shared similar sentiments.
“We are not the school district who will compromise quality for cost savings,” she told the board. “We are not the school district who will send a message to our community that we don’t think as highly of our choir program as we do our band and orchestra programs to fund a dedicated choir teacher position. I hope we will not be that school”
Superintendent Dr. Kari Cremascoli made brief mention of the district’s 2023-24 staffing plans during her report at the meeting. While she did not specifically reference any creative arts positions or the possible listing of future positions in that department, she said that the district does “expect to post a few more positions.”
“There are more (staff) to come that will be hired in June and as is always the case we continue to interview and fill positions throughout the summer as well.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.