Avon public school music room to become regular classroom due to enrolment pressures: School board

The Avon Maitland District School Board announced in a letter to school staff and parents Monday that the Avon Public School music room will be transitioned to a regular classroom due to increasing student enrolment.

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Increasing enrolment at Avon public school in Stratford has prompted board officials to turn its longtime music room into a regular classroom, a decision that’s facing increasing backlash from some members of the community.

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In a Monday letter to school staff and parents, board officials indicated enrolment pressures over the next two years, involving an expected increase from 43o to 480 students, has created a space crunch at the Stratford elementary school.

Since extra classroom space will be needed – and Ontario’s Education Ministry doesn’t provide funding for dedicated classroom space for subjects like music and French, the school’s music room will be needed to accommodate a class of children, Avon Maitland director of education Dr. Lisa Walsh wrote in the letter.

“We have been fortunate, in the past, to accommodate the music program in a classroom space. However, as we continue to grow, this classroom space is now required to accommodate a class of children. We already have three portables at Avon and the option to add a fourth is not feasible due to cost and availability,” wrote Walsh, adding that a funding request previously submitted to the Ministry of Education to build an addition was denied.

“We have had to re-evaluate the space in this school. Reorganizing the current space will not eliminate the music program at Avon; it will simply facilitate its reimagining.”

After hearing a rumour about the music room’s demise, Debbie Moffat, a Stratford woman whose four grown children had attended the elementary school, drafted an online petition – www.change.org/p/help-avon-public-school-keep-their-music-classroom – to save the music room that had gained more than 600 signatures by early Monday evening.

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“It’s the life of the school, that music room,” Moffat said. “You can’t teach that calibre of music that (music teacher Mark McIntosh) brings without a music room. He has theatre people come (visit the students); he teaches them how to play musical instruments. You can’t do that off a cart. They dance and they sing and they play. With mental health what it has been after COVID, his classroom is joy. Just plain and simple joy.”

Moffat described the Avon public school music program as unique in Stratford. Having been honoured with Stratford Summer Music’s first Excellence in Music Education Award in 2019, McIntosh has inspired and taught generations of students through the school’s award-winning choir; the Avon Public School Ensemble; the school’s annual musicals, which involve participation from as many 65 student actors and roughly 40 students working behind the scenes; and the school’s rock-band program for senior students, among other in-class and extracurricular activities and programs.

“They win awards. They win provincial contests because they have all the equipment,” Moffat said. “Where’s all that equipment going to go? … You can’t move a piano from class to class. Where are you going to practice your choir? In the gymnasium where the sound is awful?”

In a followup email, Walsh told the Beacon Herald the music room will be renovated over the summer so it will be ready for another class of children by September. Walsh also said the school’s music teacher will be responsible for determining how the music program will be administered in future years.

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“Many teachers in our system run excellent music programs using a cart, school stage, the gym, library and other common spaces,” Walsh said in the email. “Unfortunately, teachers that do not have dedicated spaces … have to adapt their program. We know that staff are very good at finding creative solutions to space issues.”

Since accommodating students is an operational decision, Walsh said the wider Avon public school community was not consulted before the decision was made, but she said parents and members of the public will be consulted during the board’s planned boundary review in a future year.

To address growth in student enrolment at Avon public school in the short term, the board is also no longer approving new border-crossing requests and previously converted the school’s computer lab into another classroom.

Moffat and other concerned parents are hoping to speak in defence of the school’s music room at either Tuesday’s or another upcoming school board meeting.

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