We’re coming up on a year since District 97 Superintendent Carol Kelley more or less put the mostly independent middle school theater programs on notice that CAST and BRAVO needed to either come into the district’s orbit and under its direction or the venerable and admired programs had to begin functioning as fully independent nonprofit entities.

Not much has happened since, despite talk of task forces and collaboration between the district and performing arts groups’ staff and volunteer boards. But Kelley is not letting the matter go quietly. It was raised again last week in a memo to the school board. 

This issue is complex and touches nerves. For some 30 years, each of these middle school programs has touched the lives of thousands of sometimes awkward middle schoolers, drawing themselves out of shells, onto the stage, and into extracurricular groups that aren’t formed around a sport. The performances have been uniformly wonderful. The leaders of each group have grown into iconic, some may have thought untouchable, status. It is not by accident that 20 years ago the district built two new middle schools each with a matching auditorium with amenities that would put a small-town high school to shame.  

But, times change, and the district is rightly under intense pressure to watch spending. And so the suggestion that BRAVO and CAST either integrate into the wider middle-school curriculum or fully take wing as distinct nonprofits is a debate that will have to be had. 

These are remarkable programs. But that does not make them immune to change.

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