OPEN LETTER from WPS Director of Orchestras to Westwood School Committee: Quality of Music Program Will Diminish Under Proposed '25 Budget
Below is a copy of an open letter from Alicia Winslow, Westwood Public Schools music teacher, to the Westwood School Committee, regarding her disappointment following the committee’s approval of the superintendent’s proposed FY’25 budget that replaces certain Music and Art elementary offerings with Digital Literacy/Computer Science.
Ms. Winslow has indicated a concern for the music program as a whole, and particularly the strings program. Westwood Minute additionally notes that the proposed budget, if adopted, would mean Ms. Winslow’s position would be cut, resulting in a shuffling of staff, and changes that will result in one or more staff members taking on Ms. Winslow’s current responsibilities, including her role as a director of orchestras.
The following open letter represents the views and opinions of the author, and not necessarily those of Westwood Minute.
Thursday, February 8, 2024
To the Members of the School Committee,
I am writing to express my deep disappointment following tonight’s approval of the budget and the impact it will have on the students of the Westwood Public Schools. I am a 20 year veteran teacher, having spent the last 9 of them serving the students of Westwood. Despite my many years of experience, I remain the least senior full time member of the music department.
I am struck by the irony that my current teaching salary does not afford me the opportunity to live in the town of Westwood and therefore speak before you tonight, but has been deemed enough of a cost savings (0.19% of the ‘25 operating budget) to justify its reduction.
While I have many concerns about the process of how we arrived here (including how a plan was developed without input from the administration of the school that will bear the brunt of the impact or any of the certified subject experts the district employs), my first and foremost concern is the effect it will have on the string program, particularly at the middle school level. This decision will undeniably diminish the quality of music education our string students receive with ripple effects for years to come. As a district that prides itself on the quality of its staff and understands the importance of the relationships between teachers, students, and content, this reduction flies in the face of those values. The members of our department are skilled and highly trained professionals. We were hired because of our specialties and for the specific roles that we were brought in to fill. We are not plug and play widgets that can be shuffled about interchangeably. The assumption that a teacher who took a one semester string methods course back in the 1990’s is qualified to take over a thriving string program (despite what a teaching certificate says) is woefully uninformed at best. It is akin to bringing in someone with a 100 day streak in Duolingo to replace a native speaker with a degree in Spanish studies.
My other pressing concern is the false dichotomy that was presented, pitting incorporating digital literacy curriculum and continuing the high quality music instruction our district is known for against each other as an either or situation. At no point was there a discussion of alternatives such as including strings in the instrumental choices in 4th grade. An option which would make access to the string program equitable for all students, including students participating in the METCO program, as opposed to reserved for those who can provide transportation to after school lessons. An option that would also simultaneously preserve the integrity of the music program and retain the quality staff that have spent their careers serving this district.
Last winter, our performing arts students raised money for the Save the Music Foundation, an organization whose mission is to bring equitable access to music education nationwide. In their advocacy, our students stood up in front of their audiences and expressed to them how privileged Westwood is to have such a strong and vibrant performing arts program thanks to the support of our school administration. And tonight that same administration decided that those same students will receive less in the name of fiscal responsibility. While I am not an expert, I feel relatively confident that the administration could have found other solutions to trim 0.19% of its operating budget if the desire was there. Solutions that would have had far less negative impact on students.
Two of WPS’ core values are: academic excellence and a commitment to improvement and respectful relationships in a caring, collaborative community. This decision does not represent excellence or improvement nor is it centered in relationships or community. A district that matches its actions to its stated values should provide its students with the best quality educational experiences, musical and otherwise, that it has at its disposal. And tonight, Westwood chose not to do that. I implore you to carefully consider the impact tonight’s decision will have on the students of Westwood and ask you to look for viable solutions that will better serve our school community.
Thanks to Alicia Winslow, music teacher and director of orchestras at Westwood Public Schools, for sharing her open letter to Westwood School Committee with Westwood Minute.
Westwood Minute takes no position on the opinions expressed in this open letter, but seeks accurate and thoughtful commentary on topics that matter to our community, from a variety of differing viewpoints. Feel free to reply with your reaction below, or submit another perspective to WestwoodInAMinute@gmail.com.