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Letter: Concerning the termination of Winter Guard at Ada schools

To the Voting Public,
I write this letter to urge your support for, and intervention on behalf of, the children of our community who are enrolled in the Ada Exempted Village School District. I write this letter after much contemplation, as I have a great deal of respect for the administrative leaders of said school district, and do not wish to undercut them or their decision-making processes. However, as a professional educator, my primary responsibility belongs to my students. I take this responsibility seriously, and as many of my alumni will attest, I carry it long past the termination of our formal relationship. While I may no longer be these students’ “official” educator, I have a great deal of investment in, and concern for, their best interests. One does not commit ten years of their life to creating something, to see it torn down without response. More importantly, one does not invest ten years in a group of children to watch them hurt and be denied opportunities without response.

As Director of Bands at Ada High School for ten years, I directed the Ada High School Winter Guard. The Ada High School Winter Guard is a 23-time State Champion, having won more championships than any other program in the history of our competitive circuit. The Ada High School Winter Guard is also a National Champion and International Semi-Finalist. More important than the success of this program is the impact that it has had on your students. The average enrollment in a Winter Guard program is about 1%. At Ada, we ranged anywhere from between 5 and 12 percent of the student body. Our students thrived in this program. Like many of the extra-curricular opportunities at Ada High School, we taught hard work, commitment, time-management, team work, and the pursuit of excellence. Every child deserves the opportunity to find their niche. While we had many students who pursued this outlet in addition to other extra-curricular ventures, we had many who pursued it exclusively. This was these students’ one outlet, their one means of being involved in their school, their one way to represent their community. It kept them off the streets. It helped them make friends. It built their self-esteem. This was their home, their safe space, and a place where they could grow and be themselves. This was a place where they could excel: they could commit and work hard, and then see the results. These are invaluable life lessons, and essential supports for our students’ emotional and mental well-being. I had students open-enroll into Ada Schools because of these programs. Speaking personally, I doubt I would have completed two doctorates, and advanced through two professions, if not for the work-ethic and commitment instilled in me by my participation in these programs as a high school student. I have witnessed our alumni participate in professional color guard ensembles, collegiate color guard ensembles, and seek career and professional opportunities in the color guard activity. Our students continue to draw on the value of these experiences, both directly and indirectly, long after their participation ends.

However, your school district seized the opportunity to terminate this program upon my departure. Compounding the maliciousness of this decision, they waited until it was too late for students to seek educational opportunities with independently sponsored Winter Guard programs, and intentionally after the students’ football-related color guard performance obligations were finished. Ada Schools claims to “aspir[e] to excel in all areas of the school experience.” However, what is occurring presently is the removal, without reason or need and at the eleventh hour, of one of the hallmark school experiences for many of our students. Ada Schools regularly touts their commitment to all students and support forall programs, yet many of our students are being left in the cold. Schools provide a breadth of opportunities for students, so that every student may find a program they value and thrive in. While your student may not have interest in this educational opportunity, I urge you to consider what educational opportunity will be taken away from our community next. I’ve witnessed athletic programs receive full authorization and support with far less student interest. I’ve witnessed unhindered administrative efforts to recruit enough students to fill these programs when numbers dwindle. And bravo to these administrators for doing so. However, here we have ten-plus students waiting at the door to participate in a program, and they are being told it is “not viable” and “we are not going to continue”. Students were told they “need to learn lessons”, such as that “things change”. You have students eager to participate.

You have instructors and coaches ready to teach these students. Yet, you have an administration clearly only aspiring to excel in some areas of the school experience. The Winter Guard was the only music- education based extra-curricular activity at Ada High School. While our students have been blessed with one of the best marching band programs in the state and a show choir program with half a century of success, these are classes.

The members of the high school music department put on an amazing performance at their fourth consecutive appearance at the Ohio Music Education Association State Marching Band Finals on Sunday. When other schools’ band members came home from this event to congratulatory support from district administrators, our students came home to hearing one of their favorite programs was being taken from them, and, basically, to deal with it. I loved seeing the posts commending our kids for their recent cheer- clinic and Quiz Bowl Championship this weekend. The absence of a similar celebration for our State Finalist Marching Band is a compelling indictment of the mindset in play this week.

Finances are important, and our schools should carefully manage the public fisc with which they are entrusted. The Ada High School Winter Guard operated with a deminimis impact on the district’s financial resources, and could easily operate with zero impact. This opportunity was not afforded to our students or Booster groups, who as of last May had already committed the needed funds. Even if our Booster group decided they can no longer support this activity, they should have been given the opportunity. Even then, speaking from first-hand experience, these types of programs can be run for $500 - or a $50 participation fee per student, similar to (though much smaller than) the fees students have paid for marching band, show choir, and winter guard for the past 40 years at Ada High School. Facilities and events can be difficult to schedule. The Winter Guard activity offers numerous contests on days where noother high school activity is offered. Rehearsal schedules are set around other events and activities, so that cross-enrolled participants can enjoy the full breadth or experiences to which they are entitled. And when students have to make decisions in the face of schedule conflicts, they do so. Prioritization of time and responsibilities is a crucial life skill. I am certain, as an administrator, having to oversee all of these activities becomes complex and difficult. Fortunately, our 900-student school is blessed with three very well compensated building-level administrators to handle this task. It is my sincere hope that chemistry or geometry never see the same disregard merely because they become inconvenient.

Winter Guard International is the primary governing body for Winter Guard activities, akin to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s role in high school athletics, but on a national scale. Since its founding, Winter Guard International has awarded nearly $1 million in college scholarships to participating students. Winter Color Guard events are recognized by the National Association of Secondary School Principals as being some of the premier educational events available to students around the country, placing them on their National Advisory List of Contests and Activities.

It was always heart warming to see my students’ tears at the conclusion of each competitive season, as they reflect on the memories they made and the lessons they learned. The tears I have observed today, however, are very, very different.

Phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the administration of Ada Schools can be found As can schedules for Board of Education meetings. If this level of communication is outside of your comfort zone, I am sure you will have the opportunity to express your feelings about these non-student-centered decisions during a November at some point in the future. While I always advocate that we support our schools, sometimes decision makers need to “learn lessons”, such as that “things change”.

Dr. Jonathan M. Lischak, Esquire