Strings Program – A Response

I would like to be perfectly clear. I want a Madison Metropolitan School District strings program in elementary schools. I have been very clear about this since my first televised board meeting last year, where I exclaimed, “I want a strings program in the budget!” However, with unfunded mandates, revenue caps, additional academic testing requirements and possible annual referendums, it is very hard to continue to make that exclamation.

For the past several months, I have been in contact with many people that have given me insight on the 4th and 5th grade strings program. These people include:
Superintendent Art Rainwater
Assistant Superintendent Jane Belmore
Interim Fine Arts Coordinator Rita Applebaum
MSCR Arts Coordinator Cristine Reid
Retired MSCR Coordinator (and my campaign treasurer) Nan Gilbert Dwyer
Building Principals
Retired Principal Joe Cullen
Jane Peschel, Director of Instruction and Principal Prairie View Elementary in Oregon
Jack Young, Strings Teacher at Randall Elementary School
Rhonda Schilling, Music Teacher at Thoreau Elementary School
Mary Rasmussen, Music and Strings Teacher at Van Hise
Marie Breed, Executive Director of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras
As well as many parents, teachers and community members.
My proposal of the 4th & 5th grade strings program is a combination of many proposals that were given to board members by the Administration in addition to conversations that I have had with the people listed above. My proposal would look at each individual elementary school schedule and fit the program to meet scheduling and budgetary requirements. For example, in some schools, students could choose between REACH and strings or General Music and strings or lunch and strings. Again, this would be a local school decision made by the local Principal and their staff. At the same time, it is very clear that we have students that are advanced in their talent and should be challenged. This is where a before school or after school program could be developed. This could be funded by community service funds (Fund 80), which are not effected by the state revenue cap. I believe that this is an appropriate way to utilize those funds. It is the community that benefits greatly from the strings programming. In addition, strategic partnerships could be developed with WYSO, MCCCA, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and others to strengthen the program.
My motion will be to direct administration to develop a 4th and 5th grade strings program that satisfies both the budget and scheduling requirements should the operating referendum not pass on May 24th. This program should encompass before school, during school and after school programming. Contents of the program and a presentation should be given to the board by Monday May 23rd.
Finally, I have to say, I take great exception to those who would like to characterize me as a “jock” that cares only about sports and not Fine Arts. Or those who believe my budgetary amendments demean and relegates the strings program to a mere “afterschool program” without as so much as to ask me to explain. These same people don’t even bother to ask the school district personnel who would have to live with the decision, “Can you do it?”
It was 15,683 adults in this community that elected me to serve as a member of the Board of Education with a student population of 24,710 not just 1,866. I was a participant in the 4th and 5th grade strings program at Lindbergh Elementary School. I know the first hand benefits of the program. Also, I played clarinet in the Lincoln Middle school orchestra and I remember the words of the teacher Lonnie Nofzsinger who would say, “Just because you’re playing the loudest note, doesn’t mean your playing the right note!”
If the Madison School Board doesn’t start working together like students in the 4th and 5th grade strings program. There will be silence. And that would be a shame.