Task Forces Are an Important Mechanism for Bringing People With Different Perspectives Together to Work on Important Issues – What About Music and Art Education?

Tonight the School Board’s Performance and Achievement Committee will discuss a status report on the elementary strings class, which they received last Thursday.
This report describes the current course, but the report a) is not an assessment of the course and b) says nothing about the future of the course. (Mr. Rainwater told me the committee only asked for a status report.) I have been one of hundreds of advocates for this course over the past 5 springs, and I see the same thing unfolding again this year that I have in the 4 previous springs without any work from the preceding year on this academic course. This course is much loved by generations of people who live in Madison, many who do not have children in the schools but do vote.
Not included with the status report is a draft vision statement developed by a group of string teachers. It’s long, needs more discussion with string teachers and the community (all string teachers have seen this) but with this draft statement a) these teachers tried to come up with something meaningful, which top management asked them to do and b) these teachers have had less than two hours of group time to even discuss what the future could be and that ended abruptly in December with no further next steps. These same teachers were given no time to work together on what adjustments needed to be made to curriculum when class time is cut in half. In June, they asked the interim FAC, who forwarded this request to Supt. Rainwater. The meetings did not take place. I don’t feel this should happen, especially when drastic curriculum changes are being considered.
For five years, hundreds of students, parents, community members and community organizations have asked for your help – either restructuring the course of redesigning this course, but working with the community in some way to keep arts strong, because it’s so important for achievement.
I and others have been strong proponents of making the course work in our current financial situation. Over these five years, I feel we have lost opportunities to develop relationships which are important for acquiring funds, to assess and redesign the K-5 music education curriculum, to develop funding sources for small group lessons for children afterschool to further strengthen what they learn during the school day.
Last year the elementary strings course reached about 1,800 students in 27 schools. Nearly 600 children (42% of the low income children in Grades 4 & 5 participated in this course). This year the course is teaching 1,650 students. The status report does not say how many low income. I do know from conversations with the Fine Arts Coordinator and with teachers that more low income children indicated an interest in taking elementary strings than were in the class for many reasons, I am sure.
I think elementary strings is an example where there have been hundreds of advocates for keeping this course, but minimal positive response and support from the School Board to bring the professionals and advocates together to work on this and other music and art issues. We have task forces for boundary changes, afterschool, live animals in the classroom, equity, etc. Given the community’s love of the arts, such a task force seems right for the arts.
I’d like to see the dialogue change this year for elementary strings and for music and art education to one where we talk about how can we work together. I would like to see the School Board consider a community task force under the oversight of the Performance and Achievement and the Partnership Committees that would bring advocates for music and art education and professionals together to work on this issue. I would like to see such a committee work on short-term issues re the elementary strings course, but also develop a 5 year fine arts strategic community plan. I have spoken with teachers, music organizations, private music teachers, the Fine Arts Coordinator and the Superintendent about the need for this. I have heard positive responses from community members and teachers, interest from the Fine Arts Coordinator.
I feel such a committee needs to be led by well-known community leaders who support the arts and arts education in the schools, because developing relationships within the community will be important for partnerships and possible fundraising.
I also think such a committee is important for credibility and for continuity. Over 5 years, MMSD has had 3 fine arts coordinators with one year without a fine arts coordinator. In spring 2003, the last fine arts coordinator was getting up to speed, in the 04-05 school year a teaching team was to help with coordination when the fine arts coordinator position was cut but this group was not put in place, and now the district has a new fine arts coordinator, who is working hard, meeting the community, teachers, helping in many ways. I think this is a critical position on the district and an important member to be on a community fine arts education committee.
Lastly, without classes during the day for elementary strings, there is no way to reach as many low-income children as the course currently reaches. Also, the district loses something special. Hundreds of children have asked the Board for help. I hope they do.
I will commment on this at the School Board meeting tonight. I have taken to writing on the blog vs. speaking at School Board meetings, because, after 5 years, and personal attacks, it takes too much out of me.

One thought on “Task Forces Are an Important Mechanism for Bringing People With Different Perspectives Together to Work on Important Issues – What About Music and Art Education?”

  1. I took the video footage of the West Side Strings Festival that appears on this site. I hope it will begin to convey the sense of awe of seeing an entire gym filled with MMSD students playing beautiful music.
    I was saddened that my 4th grader was sitting in the bleachers and not on the floor playing her cello. 4th graders had been included in previous Festivals when Strings instruction occurred twice a week.
    Also, take a look at the still photos and see the proud faces of parents – the plethora of cameras and video players. These students have worked hard to master the material and their teachers are expert.
    Who knows if there is the next Yo-Yo Ma, Richard Davis, Anne-Sophie Mutter or Midori in the crowd? Can we look at the cost per student to deliver this service and make the calculation of the program’s value based on the same weighted measure used for the rest of the budget?
    We know this curriculum works, that it builds confidence in kids and sense of accomplishment.
    It was inspirational for the younger students to hear the Memorial High Orchestra. It would be tragic to further erode access to this program.

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