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Group seeks to restore school music program

Date: 5/9/2011

May 9, 2011

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Managing Editor

WILBRAHAM — The proposed school budget for fiscal year 2012 (FY12) may have cut funding for the fifth and sixth grade instrumental music program but a group of parents refuse to accept its elimination.

Patricia Woodward, a mother of three children enrolled in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, has formed Accent on Music, a parental advocacy group to lobby for the reinstatement of the program and its instructor, Melissa Villamaino.

"Several parents have spoken directly to the Superintendent [M. Martin] O'Shea," Woodward said of the cuts. "He is just trying to do his job with a limited budget. I have been told that he has three top priorities, instrumental music being the last of the three.

"The parents have not been made aware of the specifics of the music education cut and should be told. That is the main reason for the formation of the group: To inform the parents that the fifth and sixth grade instrumental music teacher has received her pink slip, and if opposition doesn't present itself, the music program will be slaughtered at its base.

"Not only would we lose Elementary Band, we would also lose Advanced Band and Jazz Band. The fact that the students have the talent to begin with to have an advanced band and a jazz band at this level is a testament to the dedication of the teacher and her ability to have the students rise to the challenge. The performances of the groups produce standing ovations time and again," she continued.

Since Villamaino took over the program seven years ago, student participation in instrumental instruction rose from 128 in 2004 to 206 in the 2010-2011 academic year. The bands have also received numerous accolades for their performances at various competitions including gold medals at the Great East Music Festival, as well as several first place rankings at Music in the Parks Festivals.

"Music has been critical to our success as a district and I feel that it's one of those things that has been important part of who we are," O'Shea said. "I can't comment on any personnel matters but I can say that with regard to that position I am hopeful that we can bring back critical positions that are important to the administration team and to the community."

He added, "These are tough decisions that will affect very valued programs and professionals. The budget emphasis was around maintaining class size in regular classrooms and to retain programs and staff that were important to school safety. The task was to keep the cuts as far away from regular classroom instruction as possible.

"The revenue that we are set to receive hasn't kept pace with our costs and we have in recent years faced declining reimbursement for regional transportation costs, elimination of federal stimulus funds and increasing insurance costs. We have to plan for the most challenging budget scenario and I remain hopeful that we can find additional savings in the budget and additional sources of revenue," he continued.

Villamaino said she was surprised to learn of her dismissal on April 15. Her position is one of approximately 30 teachers and staff being cut from the FY12 budget.

"The school district definitely has an appreciation for the program. I've been singing the praises of the district for years, which is why it's such a shocker that it's even on the table but these are really trying financial times," Villamaino said, adding that recent talks with school officials have provided some hope that the program would be reinstated.

She stressed the benefits of the program, especially its emphasis on improvisation. "It's a phenomenal thing for their self-confidence," Villamaino added.

Voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on budget cuts at Town Meeting on May 16.

Those interested in joining Accent on Music or to learn more about the group, may contact Woodward via e-mail at or visit the group's Facebook page.

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