Jacksonville Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders dressed as Oompa-Loompas wait in the wings for their time on stage during the school’s musical production of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” earlier this week. Elementary music helps develop better math and writing skills and encourages creativity, say parents who are asking the Medford School District to save elementary music from the budget ax. - Bob Pennell

Looking for harmony

Five years after the Medford School District eliminated, then partially restored its elementary music program, Jackson County's largest district again is considering snuffing out the program because of a state revenue shortfall.

Parents beseeched the Medford School Board on Tuesday to save the program, pointing out both its academic benefits and its role in motivating some pupils to go to school.

School Board Chairman Eric Dziura said he's received about 25 e-mails and eight phone calls from constituents and parents who want to preserve the elementary music program.

"Most talked about how important music is in terms of academics and the beauty of having music and how painful it was the last time music was cut," Dziura said.

He said he would like to find a way to scale back the music program but not cut it entirely.

"There is a plethora of verified data and research that supports the impact of music education for elementary students," said Katie Tso, Hoover Elementary parent.

"Elementary music helps develop better math and writing skills, and creative abilities flourish. Students score higher on standardized tests. And when you have music in elementary schools, children who are at risk are touched by something they will not get anywhere else, period."

Several studies indicate playing music helps enhance memory and distinction in word syllables, aiding in language acquisition, including one in 2004 by Stanford University. Children taking music lessons showed an increase in their IQ, according to a study from the University of Toronto.

"We are not taking this decision lightly, but we have to make an (up to) $9 million or 10.4 percent cut," said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long, who said a decision on the music program would likely be reached by June 16 when the board approves the budget. "If we entertain the idea of eliminating music teachers, that's 11 classroom teachers we won't have to eliminate. We are looking for a balance."

The district is currently considering eliminating as many as 35 teaching jobs.

There are about 9,000 students served by the nine elementary music teachers in Medford, said Jacksonville Elementary music teacher Wendi Stanek.

That's an "excellent return on investment," Tso said.

Tso has suggested eliminating 18 instructional coaches instead. But district officials argue the coaches who mentor teachers on instructional practices can be paid for with federal funds earmarked for students in poverty and those with disabilities because they help improve the overall quality of instruction, while music teachers can't be funded that way.

"Instructional coaches (are) touted as a success without any data," Tso said, whereas music teachers are a tangible benefit.

Medford elementary pupils now attend music classes for 40 minutes every week. They learn singing, reading music, music styles, classical composers, guitar, keyboard, drums and recorders, while their classroom teacher uses the time to prepare for lessons, Stanek said.

"The proposal to cut elementary music is devastating to our students," said Stanek, who has taught music for 21 years. "For many kids, their only exposure to music education is through their public school music program."

Stanek heads up the annual Jacksonville Elementary musical production that kicks off the Britt Festival every year. Three to four hundred people attend.

"I don't understand why music is threatened when there is a budget crisis, because research repeatedly shows that teaching kids music has far-reaching academic benefits," she said. "Kids that are taught music are better readers, better at math and even score higher on SATs."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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