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Districts Partner to Build School Music Programs

By Liana Loewus — April 14, 2015 5 min read
Julie Ernst, a music teacher from Anaheim, Calif., gives a high-five to a student in a 2nd grade music class at Cane Ridge Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn. Ms. Ernst was part of a delegation from the Anaheim City school district that visited Nashville earlier this spring to learn about its music education programs.
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Three years ago, at the mayor’s prompting and with the help of local music-industry professionals, the Nashville school district beefed up its music education program to include new technology, more band and choral groups, and the teaching of less traditional genres such as mariachi, hip-hop, and bluegrass.

“People come to Nashville, and they assume we’re going to have the best music programs, and we decided we should make that our goal,” said Mayor Karl Dean.

Meanwhile, 2,000 miles away in the Anaheim, Calif., elementary district, not a single dedicated music class had been held in more than 20 years.

“We recently opened a time capsule, and there was evidence there had been an orchestra—but that was a 25-year time capsule,” said Linda Wagner, the superintendent of the 19,000-student Anaheim City district, which serves K-6 students.

As Anaheim district officials look to gear up school music offerings again, they’ve turned to their Nashville counterparts to see what a robust music education program can look like—especially one that pulls in business and community support.

A group of school board members and administrators from Anaheim made the cross-country trip late last month to meet with the Nashville mayor, the head of Warner Music Nashville, the schools superintendent, and local music educators to get a glimpse of the business-school-government partnerships at work in Music City. They toured classrooms, sat in panel discussions, and discussed next steps for Anaheim.

The trip was organized and underwritten in part by the Carlsbad, Calif.-based NAMM Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Music Merchants, a membership group for the music-products industry. NAMM uses what its executive director, Mary Luehrsen, calls a “teach me to fish” model, providing professional development and tools for program building rather than solely contributing money.

Contexts Differ

But what works in Nashville won’t necessarily work in Anaheim.

For one thing, Nashville is home to the Country Music Association, which has donated as much as $8 million to Nashville public schools, and to singer Taylor Swift, a generous supporter of music education efforts.

Educators and officials from both districts observe a music class at Nashville's Eakin Elementary School.

“We’re not Music City,” said Louie Magdaleno, the principal at Marshall Elementary School in Anaheim.

The 82,000-student Nashville district also wasn’t starting from scratch when it began its new music initiative several years ago.

“We need to get to where they were when they started,” said Mary Grace, the director of curriculum and instruction for the Anaheim district.

But as representatives from NAMM and Anaheim are quick to note, the two cities have similarities. They’re both urban centers where a majority of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty.

“We both have a community of private sources who would be interested [in getting involved],” said Anaheim school board member Bob Gardner. “They have the country-music industry, but we’re one of the entertainment capitals of the world.”

Anaheim’s Disneyland Park brings in an estimated 16 million visitors per year and has tens of thousands of employees.

Both cities have “massive convention centers, a hotel infrastructure, professional sports teams, and big arenas,” said Ms. Luehrsen. And both host conventions for NAMM, which bring in thousands of musicians and music-industry professionals a year.

Starting Small

The partnership between the districts started about two years ago. Ms. Wagner wanted to restart music classes in Anaheim, and got in touch with the city’s mayor for help.

“Music does such great things on so many different levels. ... It gives a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging, it creates a social infrastructure,” said Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait. “All the good things that come from learning an instrument—we were not getting any of them.”

Mr. Tait made the call to the NAMM Foundation, which flew two professional-development trainers from Nashville’s program to California.

“Everybody thinks if we have instruments, we can have music, but it’s not that simple,” said Nola Jones, the visual- and performing-arts coordinator for the Nashville schools.

In early conversations, the Nashville trainers encouraged Anaheim to start a comprehensive program at a few schools and expand from there.

“What we determined was: Let’s build this incrementally, so we have a real music curriculum, a dedicated teacher, a dedicated space—not just somebody who comes out for a half-day,” said Ms. Jones.

Last September, the Anaheim district created positions for three music teachers and an arts-program coordinator. Next year, said Ms. Wagner, the district has budgeted for three more teachers, leaving about 18 schools without music instructors.

Music in Action

While in Nashville, the Anaheim representatives stopped at Cane Ridge Elementary, where they saw music teacher Kiera Crite deliver a 2nd grade lesson on whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes. The students sang a song to learn the vocabulary, read note durations and demonstrated them on a drum, and then broke into small groups for practice playing the notes.

“This is a whole new level of music education,” said Anaheim school board member Jackie Filbeck.

Crane Ridge has three music teachers for 1,000 students, and students get at least an hour a week of instruction. That revelation caused a few jaws to drop among the Anaheim visitors—their district’s student-to-music-teacher ratio is 800-to-1. Anaheim students get closer to a half-hour of music per week.

Among the heartening information the Anaheim administrators learned was that the Nashville district does not rely on donations to fund staff members. The positions are incorporated into operating costs and make up less than 2 percent—or $14 million—of an $800 million budget.

“It’s not money we have to go back and reallocate every year,” said Nashville Superintendent Jesse Register.

Ms. Grace, Anaheim’s curriculum director, said hearing the numbers made it clear a citywide program may be possible “with or without that big donor on the side.”

The time may be opportune for reallocating funds in Anaheim. Under California’s local-control funding formula, districts have more flexibility in how they use money for students in poverty, English-learners, and foster children—who together make up nearly the entire district.

After the school visit, the Anaheim group was realistic about the challenges ahead: Where will the pipeline of qualified music teachers come from, since the area has lacked music education for so long? Will the teacher contract pose barriers to evaluating music teachers? Will classroom teachers, some of whom have become highly focused on accountability measures, buy in to sending their students down the hall for 45 minutes a week?

Ultimately, district leaders and music educators know what they want: a standards-based music program with qualified teachers, designated classrooms, and built-in funding that’s for all students.

“There’s no doubt we want to press forward,” said Superintendent Wagner. “It’s just the pace.”

Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the April 15, 2015 edition of Education Week as Anaheim and Nashville Partner to Promote Music Studies


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