The Madison Community – Students, Parents, Professionals, Citizens – Can Help Elementary Strings: Here’s How

The community CAN HELP elementary strings and fine arts education in MMSD. Please write the School Board – – ask them a) to establish a community fine arts education advisory committee beginning with a small community working group to put together a plan for this, b) develop a multi-year strategic and education plan for fine arts education, c) work with the music professionals and community to address short-term issues facing elementary music education (other fine arts areas – dance, drama) that supports children’s learning and academic achievement. Until this is done, please write the School Board asking them not to accept (to reject) the Superintendent’s current K-5 music education proposal to eliminate elementary strings.
At this late date in the year, I feel a small community working group needs to be established that will develop a plan for moving forward with the community on fine arts education issues. I would be more than happy to volunteer my time to help coordinate this effort, which I see as a first step toward the establishment of a community fine arts education task force/advisory committee. However, what is key is the School Board’s support and the Superintendent’s leadership, and I would be honored to work with all members of the school board and with the Superintendent. I’m sure other people would be happy to help as well.
The issues with MMSD’s fine arts elementary music education is not solely a budget issue, but the administration’s lack of imagination and longer-term education planning in fine arts makes courses such as strings become budget issues because nothing is done from year to year to make it anything other than a budget issue.
Elementary strings is a high-demand course – this isn’t 50 kids across the district, it was 1,745 in September 2005. From 1969 to 2005, enrollment has tripled, increasing by 1,000 students from 1992 until 2002, at the same time that the number of low income and minority children increased in the elementary student population. Demand for the course is annually 50% of the total enrollment in 4th and 5th grade. Plus, minority and low income enrollment has increased over the years. This year there are about 550 low income children enrolled in the elementary class. More low income children enrolled to take the course, but did not because of the pull out nature, I’m assuming. There is nowhere else in the City that so many low-income children have the opportunity to study an instrument at a higher level and continuously as part of their daily education.

Each spring, the administration waits until late April and then releases reports on elementary strings, saying they’ve worked hard, but can’t figure it out. These documents imply that teachers have had input, but I can tell you that this spring’s reports a) were not reviewed by teachers, and b) string teachers might have spent less than an hour or so learning about what other schools do, but they were not asked to be part of a process, they were not given objectives, process, timeline. And, they did not receive any draft documents to review. To me, this is unacceptable in the day and age of email.
I spoke before the board less than a month ago, saying how concerned I was that nothing had been done asking them to please avoid the past years’ mistakes and move forward working together, knowing how important this course is to the community and how quickly budget time was approaching. I asked the School Board to consider establishing an advisory Fine Arts Community Education Committee, because a) Madison values the arts and b) this would be a great vehicle to develop a fine arts education strategy. Shwaw Vang, who chaired the committee I spoke at, and other board members were supportive of my comments. If there are any plans to obtain private grants or private money, there must be a strategy in place that is clear and supported. Also, there must be vehicles that allow relationships to be built that will lead to contributions – this takes organization, commitment and time.
To be successful, support for fine arts education and a strategic plan has to come from the School Board and has to come from the Superintendent. So far, it has not, and I believe this has been damaging on so many fronts.
Both Art Rainwater and the Fine Arts Coordinator heard me say publicly another approach is needed, reports should be reviewed and have input from the appropriate professionals and that we should work together as we move forward. I said I wanted to be supportive and work together. I have spent time with each one of them privately saying the same things as I am writing here. Yet, at the meeting where I spoke publicly, neither person indicated to the school board publicly that a report with a proposal for K-5 music education was underway and would be sent to the school board shortly. No K-5 music teacher knew this report/memo was being prepared.
In my opinion, major issues negatively affecting music education are a) lack of top level administrative support for fine arts education and b) lack of multi-year planning in fine arts education, which would have been in place years ago when cuts first affected fine arts education if top level administrators cared about this education.
Sometimes approaches appear to me to reflect some sort of a mindset – that only administrators can do the job. The best administrators I encountered while working were those who knew how to surround themselves and work with the appropriate expertise, no matter what the issue. I have not seen this approach with fine arts education in Madison recently. Music education planning this year effectively has been closed – to teachers, to the School Board, to the public. In effect, the district added an additional administrative layer, that put up one more wall. I don’t think the district and the community can afford additional layers of administrators who keep out and do not work side-by-side with teachers, other professionals and the community, keeping them informed and “in the loop,” so to speak. It’s not productive and it is too expensive.
Why don’t I feel the Superintendent’s approach takes fine arts education more seriously? Two years ago or more, the Superintendent requested a committee composed of parents come together to address specific issues re extracurricular sports when sports became an issue. No such action was forthcoming on fine arts, especially strings. We currently have board sponsored public committees on equity, animals in the classroom, boundaries. It’s time for one for fine arts, and I think this has to come from the School Board and be co-chaired by members of the community.
I support referendums, adequate funding for our schools, and I abhor the legislature’s lack of attention and failure to address school financing. However, locally, I feel our school board needs to encourage and to support different approaches and next steps. Please write to Madison’s School Board members, asking them to do this for strings and fine arts education in MMSD.

6 thoughts on “The Madison Community – Students, Parents, Professionals, Citizens – Can Help Elementary Strings: Here’s How”

  1. I wrote to the board in support of strings, Barb. I hope that everyone writes and the board responds favorably.

  2. AND write to the legislature to repeal or amend the QEO. Let’s face it folks. With the QEO in the equation we will lose strings, reading recovery, support that actually makes heterogeneous classes feasible, title 1, sports, etc. We will turn into California and other states that have put caps on spending in our schools. Local school board members, administrators, and teachers will face the brunt of the criticism of the cuts imposed upon us ALL because of the QEO. I agree that strings, and music education as a whole, helps children to achieve. We all should band together to get the QEO modified or repealed. Let’s face it, we are at a cross-roads in Wisconsin. We can chose to be divided and let the legislature get off Scott-free, or we can work together to save strings, sports, esl teachers, special education teachers, aides, etc. The QEO has been effective on so many levels; it has divided our community AND has made the people who can actually affect change unaccountable for the yearly cuts to our schools. We need to band together and bring it to the legislature. I, for one, will stand with the children as they play the violin on the steps of the state capital. It is time for all of us to look into the mirror and decide, Can we put our differences aside to, with one voice, (or one violin) stop the insanity that is plaguing our schools?

  3. I write the legislature, and will continue to do so, and am willing to work with others to get adequate financing for public education. However, that does not excuse the lack of leadership, imagination and action on music education during the past 7 years. This lack of action at the local level exacerbated what the state’s inattention and underfunding is doing to our education system, and there’s no excuse for this lack of leadership. While working together at the state level, we also need to work together and creatively at the local level whether we like it or not. Until there is change, we have to do the best we can each year, focus every penny in the classroom first, look for alternatives, build the case for referendums, etc. It’s what it is – for better or worse.

  4. I’ve always felt there needs to be several levels of action going on, all originating from the School Board collectively and through their committees. The primary role of school boards – it’s about academic achievement and closing the achievement gap. There are many issues that affect how a board can get at their primary responsibility – state and federal laws, financing, curriculum, are a few issues that come to mind.
    I have not seen Madison’s School Board wrap its arms around charting its course and bringing the community together to work together for our kids and for our City. (There have been some positive steps with recent committees – boundaries, equity, animals in the classroom, athletics.) Look at the School Board Committees’ work – dabbling. The finance and operations committee did not even meet in March to discuss the budget. In an environment of revenue caps, QEO, no (every) child left behind, etc., dabbling does not help and will not work.
    The appearance of dabbling won’t pass referendums either. In our current legal environment, Madison will have to pass referendums. If the School Board does not develop a long-term working/planning strategy with action plans that is re-examined from year to year, develops clear goals for the year, issues to be addressed, committee assignments and does this in a very public manner – we won’t pass referendums, which will be hard enough to do in any case.
    I feel we have to take these steps – our city is changing. Not only is our low income/minority school population increasing, who is going to move into those downtown condominiums. Plus, families moving into the area have more choices now than ever before of where to live and to send their children to school.
    MMSD is a major economic engine in the City of Madison – $350+ million. What happens to the school district will affect the economics of the city. However, those connections and realizations are not there. They’ve got to be to pass referendums, in my humble opinion.
    Fine arts is only one piece, but it is an important education piece for kids and an important connection/relationship with the larger community – not simply kids’ access to arts venues, but an important connection with the values and economics of the larger Madison community.
    I’m on the Partnership Committee as a citizen member and will do my best as a member. I’m committed to advocating for fine arts education, and will help on larger issues affecting schools and passing referendums. I will not throw up my hands and say, “We can’t do anything; it’s the state’s fault.” Our kids and our community can’t afford School Board members who do that either.

  5. I am all for dumping the revenue caps and the terrible state funding formula for school districts. But unfortunately, the political composition in the state capitol is such that Madison residents writing to our own legislators (or any other legislator for that matter) does not make a difference. Madison’s state legislators are already on our side, but lack any power in the current legislature.
    Advocates for change need to build a case for change with communities statewide, and get them to put pressure on legislators from conservative districts. And we need to somehow bring along business interests to our side, so that they can get Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce to change its position on taxation as it affects school funding — particularly now as the legislature continues to push its so-called tax-payer bill of rights (TABOR) that will further limit the ability of commuities to fund programs and services.

  6. We need to work on multiple issues at multiple levels, from national to state to our local school board.

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