Giving thanks, and a little advice

A third annual Thanksgiving column that might not leave everyone so thankful for me….

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
It is hard to think that after just two years, we at The Times could have anything like a tradition, but this is amazingly, the third annual Thanksgiving column.

Not surprisingly, I have much to be thankful for, from the tens of thousands of readers, dozens of advertisers and those local elected and school officials who put up with us — even if we sometimes make them a little crazy (and yes, they in turn can perplex us at times, too). I’m thankful for the small band of columnists, contributors and others who often for nothing in return but our thanks, provide some of the content that keeps readers coming back, day after day.

Trying to run a media company these days is a bit like trying to navigate a sailing vessel in a hurricane without a compass, but your warm comments and enthusiastic support keep us going.

Added to the long list of things I’m thankful for is my business partner, Kathy Brady Shea, who serves as our managing editor and is a much-needed second (if you assume I’m one, which is admittedly iffy) grown-up at the helm.

Obviously, I remain thankful for all that I have in my life — starting with my relentlessly patient wife, Stephanie and my kids — Janet and Kenny, both of whom seem heck-bent on breaking the UCF district record for teacher conferences in a school year — as well as my less terrifying and much more grownup stepsons, Eddy and Greg Foster. Sometime later this afternoon, we’ll be gathering as a group and devouring a large turkey and at least a little Galer Estate wine (yes, a shameless plug for one of our advertisers — but the stuff is amazing).

Here’s hoping all of you have as many people and things to be thankful for this season — and that all of you have a wonderful holiday.

* * *

The status of Unionville High School’s Marching Band has become a surprisingly compelling story in the last few weeks. It seems that issue has generated more comment than I’d have expected from people when I’m out and about.

I’ve been a little reluctant to express my own opinion on this matter for a few reasons. First and foremost, my business partner is married to the president of Band Boosters Association. Second, I expect at least one of my kids — and maybe both, if Kenny doesn’t end up playing football — to be members of the marching band in a few years.

But it’s hard not to have an opinion on this.

Changing the band participation requirement seems a bit like treating a pimple with a chainsaw.

Unlike most of the band members, alumni and parents who spoke Monday night, though, I think that the requirement should stand as is and not just be limited to freshmen as suggested as a compromise.

As a musician — of sorts (you would have to pry my beloved Les Paul out of my cold, dead fingers to get it away from me) — I would tell you that playing music with others and learning to work together is ultimately the biggest learning experience that one can get in music. You can learn to play the notes on a page, but getting two, six or a hundred or so performers on the same page is the single biggest learning experience that can be offered to music students.

The marching band, in a single season, gets more opportunity to perform than a student would get in his or her entire high school career otherwise. To me, that’s not extra curricular, that’s the heart of the curriculum. Making that optional is like making verbs optional in English class.

One voiced objection I heard during Monday night’s discussion was that curricular requirements shouldn’t be forced on students after the final bell of the day — a seemingly confusing position, considering the district’s policy on homework — taking students an hour or more per day after the final bell.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t issues with the band that shouldn’t be addressed.

First — exemptions seem to be given out without a clear policy or criteria. I don’t blame the band’s director for this — Scott Litzenberg — by all reports he seems to have been pretty accommodating. But as with any other academic requirements, why not spell out what merits an exemption and what doesn’t?

Another issue: weekday band practice runs too long, in my opinion. It shouldn’t end at 9:30 on a school night. A brisk, tightly managed two-hour session from 6-8 (or heaven forbid, immediately after school — we should be accommodating the student scheduling needs, not those of faculty) should be adequate. Excessively long practices tend to have diminishing returns and eat up time that could more sensibly spent on other matters, if only making sure students get enough sleep.

And yes, every coach or teacher wants that “extra” 15 minutes to get one last run through in, but here’s where there needs to be oversight — an issue at times ranging from athletics to some extra-curricular activities. While some have questioned the cost of supplemental contracts, I find myself more concerned about how well those on such contracts are monitored and supervised. This isn’t a knock on coaches and advisors — but from outside looking in, it doesn’t appear that there are clear guidelines or expectations or a great deal of enforcement of such guidelines — a situation that seems to go back a number of years.

All of this strikes me as trying to use a policy change as a bandage for what seem to be, from here, management issues.

* * *

Not to be a downer, but, I have similar issues on another subject: the district’s advertising policy. To be delightfully blunt, it makes no sense whatsoever. None.

Read strictly, which is what is now happening, it’s easier to list the businesses and local organizations that can advertise than those prohibited.

Churches? Nope. Local restaurants? Nope. The YMCA? Nope. The Landhope? Nope (they sell lottery tickets and tobacco products — promotion of either subjects them to advertising purgatory).

As a so-called capitalist stooge, this delights me. The less money spent on ads for district programs and causes, the more budget local advertisers will have for ads here.

As a parent and taxpayer, though, I think this defies anything like common sense and it’s just wrong.

To be honest, Policy 913.1 is pretty much a hot mess. To say it is exceptionally politically correct is to vastly understate the truth. While the first six points are workable, maybe even reasonable, 7. is overly restrictive and 8. is vague and open to wide-ranging interpretation, turning a useful policy into a taxpayer burden.

The fix? Delete 8. On 7. add the word “overtly” to promote. That means St. Michael’s can run an ad in a play program offering best wishes for success, but still would be prevented from, as school board member Jeff Hellrung put it recently, running an ad saying “Join our flock or go to hell.” Specific bans on adult-entertainment, regulated drugs and firearms are still reasonable and workable, but much of this is a judgment call.

And yes, I make those kind of calls. Most who would run ads here are fine, but we have some limits. Would we run ads from Targetmaster? Yes. Would we run one (and they’d never seek to do this, mind you) one featuring a bikini-clad model kissing a Glock? Of course not. Would we run a tasteful ad from Birds and Bees or Feminique Boutique? I don’t know, to be honest — we’d have to discuss it internally. Ads from hate groups? Obviously not.

Of course, as a business our standards would be a bit more flexible than a school district’s — but the process is the same. Why exclude Waywood Beverage or Applebees from running a “Best Wishes” ad? Local businesses want to help support he district — some of whom have done so for decades — and are being told their business is somehow offensive.

Aside from being a bit rude and judgmental, it is fiscally irresponsible.

Like it or not — increasing commercialism in and around our schools is going to be the only way to maintain funding and programs without massive tax hikes. Without a good plan going forward, this is going to be a bigger problem, not a small one.

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One Comment

  1. Ray Farrell says:

    Im sorry people are confused about the simple concept that participating in marching band is a huge time commitment that goes way beyond normal homework expectations, and is in fact an extra-curricular activity.

    Practicing your musical instrument at home is homework, being in the marching band is extra-curricular.

    Parents are the deciders of how their children’s limited time is spent away from school…not the school or band director.

    Music instruction and playing an instrument is part of a well-rounded education that tax paying parents expect. By forcing students to spend countless hours after school and on weekends to march in the band for the right to receive music instruction is less than reasonable.

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