ENTHUSIASTIC SUPPORT OF THE OPS Choir program, including the proud tradition of the OMS choirs, was represented by this group of high school students and their teacher, Eric Locker (standing center), during the OMS “Owosso Pop!” performance this last Tuesday. Some of these students attended the Monday, May 14 Board of Education meeting. At the meeting, the students questioned the board with concerns related to the continuation of the OMS choirs. More on this is outlined in the story.

(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)


by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor

The Owosso Middle School hosted its annual spring choir production directed by Kirsten Shaffert on Tuesday, May 15 in the auditorium. The concert was titled “Owosso Pop!” and included the 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade choirs: a combined total of over 200 students. However, factored into the annual vocal event was Joe Marcotte, a guest drummer, along with a series of soloists, instrumentalists, and dancers. Rebecca Taylor, a 6th-grade student, even helped out with the lighting during one performance. The inspiration behind all of these additions, which the school has actively made in an effort to be more inclusive of various talents, according to OMS Principal Rich Collins, has in part led to the combined vision of a musical theater/vocal performance class to be taught by long-time Owosso school teacher Jessica McClung. Shaffert is resigning at the conclusion of the school year.

A number of curriculum details are currently being worked out, though Collins also shared that the community will continue to see similar performances such as the Tuesday, May 15 performance throughout upcoming years, with the shift of what is now planned to become a year-long class encompassing elements from both theater and choir. Once the curriculum is in place, parents of incoming students will be notified. Note that this endeavor is not proposed to eliminate core choir content/skills in the process. The goal is to maintain the current standards of the Owosso Public School vocal program, while adding into the mix some acting, performing, instrumental, dancing, and technical opportunities.

The change in the traditional OMS choir program recently reached public notice, and a group of almost 20 Owosso High School choir students, inspired by their temporary teacher, Eric Locker, approached the Owosso school board during the meeting on Monday, May 14. Locker has stepped into the teaching position while OHS choir director Jessica Nieuwkoop is on leave. He has been tasked with organizing the popular choral cabaret event ending Sunday, May 20, and a number of choir students have been inspired by his enthusiasm and teaching methodology.

The high school students addressed the board primarily on concerns related to maintaining the high standard traditionally exhibited by the school choirs. Several of these students are already participating in a variety of arts-related programs including choir, band, theater, public speaking, and more. The students were seeking feedback: hoping that the board was not considering “cutting” or “eliminating” the OMS choir program, as had been suggested around the Owosso community. In deference to a perceived threat to the choir program, a petition had been initiated at www.change.org.

On Tuesday, May 15, Owosso Superintendent Dr. Andrea Tuttle and OMS Principal Rich Collins released a letter to parents and students, addressing some of the concerns that the students and others had expressed at the board meeting and across social media venues. The full letter is available at www.owossoindependent.com.

Many educational organizations in Michigan similar to OPS have faced state under-funding. Information on that is available in a report published in January 2018 by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, and Picus, Odden and Associates for the Michigan School Finance Collaborative. According to the report, funding is not always being set aside in accordance for areas where there is a disproportionate number of low-income students. Owosso has a large low-income population and the school district, of course, has to work within the yearly budget by strategically placing staff in accordance with their abilities to establish and maintain a high academic level. Historically, the Owosso Board of Education has often fought to keep fine arts in the curriculum, and the school district has relished the rewards related to this continued support.

It should be noted that any monies connected to the recent donation of $1.1 million from the Cook Family Foundation, the $45 million bond, or the upcoming August sinking fund renewal, are completely unrelated to the budget that the board maintains in accordance under state parameters.

OPS Plans to Maintain Choral Tradition but Introduce New Opportunities was last modified: May 21st, 2018 by Karen Elford