Phila. school faces loss of dedicated music teacher

To cover an expected $629 million budget shortfall, the Philadelphia School District will likely make deep cuts in kindergarten and busing, as well as eliminating 3,820 jobs.

One of those jobs belongs to Hugh Williamson at Shawmont School.

Perched on a ridge in Roxborough, Shawmont is the highest school in the district. It also has one of the best elementary school music programs.

Williamson directs the jazz ensemble, the concert band, and the pit orchestra. He and four part-time teachers give 180 lessons each week. If their hands are too small for the instruments, first-graders start off with vocal lessons.

But Williamson’s position will be eliminated in July.

“We’ve talked about writing grants, we’ve talked about soliciting support from local music organizations who have volunteer programs,” said Shawmont principal Michael Graff.

“Those are great for partnering, great for networking. But day to day, Monday through Friday, 9 to 3:15, nothing takes the place of having a position dedicated solely to the instrumental program,” said Graff.

Graff says music is a keystone of the school’s academic program. Discipline learned in the practice room carries over into other subjects.

The first year Graff took over at Shawmont, Annie Evans was in eighth grade and learning violin. Now she has a son in the sixth grade and has seen what its music program can accomplish.

“Daniel is very shy. Extremely shy when he was younger,” said Evans. “You had to force him to get out there and be social. Here, he had an opportunity to meet kids and they performed together, you see another side of him. I told his teacher he used to be shy and she couldn’t believe it.”

The school cuts are not yet set in stone, but Graff is expecting the worst. Parents who pushed to get their kids into Shawmont say that without the music program, the school will not have the same quality.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.