Thursday, April 19, 2012

Free Ice Cream! Click here!

OK.  There's not actually any free ice cream.  Sorry about that.  But people don't want to hear about the Doomsday Budget anymore.  We are all weary of the fighting in the legislature and worrying about what it means for our schools.  We're all busy, too, and hoping someone else will take care of the problem.

I wish it could happen that way, but does it ever?

Please take a moment to read on . . .

1. Board of Education president, Jennifer Seidel, and Superintendent Guthrie are giving us (the public) an opportunity to meet with them and learn more about this issue and how it affects our schools.  We really should take them up on their offer.  Learn about it.  Get involved.  Take advantage of opportunities to be part of the discussion.  (I know.  You're busy.  You have a million places to go tonight.  I completely understand!  I'm in the same boat.  Make time anyway.  How can we complain later if we didn't make the time to be involved in the first place?  I'll see you there!)

The meeting is TONIGHT (April 19th) at 7:00pm at Shiloh Middle School.

2. There is no doubt in my mind that music and the arts will be affected by cuts.  They always are.  Part of me says "Every groups needs to do their part and take one for the team, for the greater good, even music."  Another part of me says "Music has already been cut and most people don't even know it.  Several music teacher positions have disappeared during the past 5 years as people retired and their positions were not filled or as administrators made tough choices about staffing allocations.  All of the high school programs that I know fund themselves almost completely, with very little financial support from the county."  I hope that our school system officials recognize that music has already faced these cuts and chooses to look elsewhere. If our music programs have to "take one for the team" then I hope others programs will bear that burden in equal measure so that all may survive.

3.  Advocacy works!  If we educate ourselves about this issue and respectfully take part in the dialog, we can be part of the solution.

Come and be part of the solution with me!

Town Hall Meeting- TONIGHT at 7:00pm at Shiloh MS.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What does advocacy look like?

As parents, we see the word advocacy all the time.  But sometimes it is difficult to know what a parent can do.  Perhaps more importantly, it's tough to know what we should do!  How do we know when it's time to advocate for school music programs?

The easiest answer is . . . It is ALWAYS time to advocate for our school music programs.  Why?  Because we live in a culture that places the arts on the fringe.  We know that when it's time for budget cuts, the arts are almost universally identified as a place for potential reductions.  We also know that if we are proactive in our support for the arts, we can dramatically decrease the likelihood that music will be targeted for cuts.  We can stand prepared to speak against such cuts at the earliest stages of the discussion, rather than when it is almost too late.

Being proactive as an advocate means . . .

1. Speaking positively about music with our friends, neighbors, students and teachers.  Negative comments and criticisms don't build strong music programs.  In fact, they usually undermine the efforts of even the best teachers.  Be a cheerleader for music.  If you have a legitimate concern, try to work through it with the teacher.

2. Paying attention to the decision-making processes in our school district.  Most Boards of Education post their meeting agendas and minutes online.  It only takes a minute to check the agenda and see whether there are issues under discussion that will affect music.

3. Asking your student's music teacher if there are areas that need advocacy.  Parents don't always know all the behind-the-scenes policies that affect their child's music education.  Sometimes the music teacher's hands are tied by the budget, the attitude of administrators or a fellow teacher's unwillingness to "share" students. Many times a parent can say something to an administrator that a teacher cannot.  But it is important to ask the music teacher first in order to gain a clear, complete picture of what is happening at the school and how you can help.

4. Attending concerts, testifying at board of education meetings, gathering like-minded supporters on a facebook group, etc.  The decision-makers in the school district are less likely to cut music if they know that there is already strong community support for keeping it in the curriculum.

5. Including advocacy materials in concert programs or as slide presentations while people are waiting for concerts to begin.  There is a captive audience of fellow parents who are waiting to hear their kids make music.  They probably arrived early to get a good seat.  Why not use the time to educate them?

Here's a great example, created by Mr. Andrew Spang, a member of the Music Advocates of Carroll County (MACC) and a very accomplished band director.  Andy created this video to be shown at a MACC meeting of teachers and parents, but he also shows it before concerts as a way to get parents thinking and talking about the value of arts education.  Click the link to view it.

MACC Keynote Video

Is there more we can do as advocates?  Of course!  But hopefully this is a good start.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Letter to the Editor

This week there was an article in the Carroll County times about the budget for next school year.  The article paraphrased a community member who suggested our school district has excessive arts offerings and should look to the arts as an area to trim the budget.  The link is here if you want to read it.  I wrote this letter to the editor in response . . . 

Letter to the Editor in Response to:
Residents, Board Members Comment on Budget
By Alisha George
Published January 26, 2012

Dear Carroll County Times,

I was dismayed to read the suggestion by a community member that Carroll County Public Schools should look to the arts as the place to reduce electives and trim the budget.  With the increased emphasis on standardized testing and the traditional three “R’s”, some have lost sight of the inherent worth of that very essential fourth “R”—the aRts.  As we prepare our students to be college and career ready, I hope our community will remember that human beings are more than just the grades we earn or the jobs we perform.  Our true value lies in the compassion, beauty, and understanding that we bring to our fellow human beings-- all emotions that are nurtured through the arts. 

Beyond this, it would be shortsighted to assume that the arts are not careers for which we should be preparing our students.  Every time we turn on the radio, watch a movie, or enjoy the graphics on our computer screen, we are benefiting from the hard work of someone who chose the arts as a career.  Musicians, actors, dancers and visual artists are the most obvious of these; but let us not forget sound engineers, graphic artists, video game designers, choreographers, music therapists, interior designers, writers, fashion designers, photographers, and museum curators, just to name a few.

I am personally very grateful that my children will have the benefit of a diverse arts education in Carroll County.  I encourage everyone in our community to learn more about the arts programs in our schools.  Check out a concert.  Attend a drama production or an art exhibit.  I think you will see that our young people have amazing talent and potential, which is being nurtured every day by some very dedicated arts teachers. Let us do all that we can to support their efforts and ensure strong arts programs for our students.


Maggie Fischer
Music Advocates of Carroll County

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dear School Administrator . . .

I wrote this letter as a member of the Music Advocates of Carroll County.  We sent it to the principals at every middle and high school in our county.  Will it have an impact?  I don't know.  But I do know that doing nothing gets us nowhere.  Speak up!  Let our schools know that the community values arts education.

Dear Principal,

Happy New Year from the Music Advocates of Carroll County!  As the scheduling process for the 2012-2013 school year begins, we wanted to take a moment to thank you for your efforts to ensure that students have access to a high quality music education.

As the school principal, you wield powerful influence over the strength of the ________Music Program.  Your leadership makes it possible to:

  • Create schedules that give students access to music classes.
  • Offer curricular performing ensembles that meet consistently during the entire school year.
  • Offer opportunities for consistent, specialized instruction such as through sectional rehearsals.
  • Foster an environment where the accomplishments of music students are celebrated.
  • Educate non-music teachers about the value of the arts as core subjects.

In an era when there is so much pressure to raise standardized test scores, please know that many of us in the community value the arts and the richness of experience that these “non-tested” subjects bring to our young people.  We appreciate your efforts to strengthen the music program at _________.  We hope that as students begin the scheduling process, they will be given every opportunity to participate in a high-quality, standards-based, sequential program of music study.

Thank you for your support of our young musicians!


Maggie Fischer
Music Advocates of Carroll County

School districts with strong arts education programs report that superintendents and school principals who collectively support and regularly articulate a vision for arts education are critically important to the successful implementation and stability of district arts education policies. (“Gaining the Arts Advantage,” The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, 1999)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Band doesn't fit and other 9th grade scheduling issues

Can you believe Junior is almost ready for high school?  How the time flies!  Over the next few weeks and months there will be visits from high school reps, parent meetings, scary lists of graduation requirements and charts of which classes to take during the next four years.  It can feel like our teenagers' entire futures depend on the choices they are making right now. 

So . . . how do we navigate through this pressure cooker to help our kids fulfill their requirements, learn what they need to learn and still have time to pursue their passions for music?  

I asked my band director husband for advice.  The three questions below are the ones he hears most often during scheduling time and the responses are what he tells parents each year. 

Help! I’ve been told music courses won’t fit in my schedule. What do I do now?
We hear this every year, and 99% of the time, music WILL fit if you are willing to find a way to make it happen.. Talk with the music directors at the high school.  They have helped numerous students resolve schedule conflicts, so they may know a way to help you. 

I was in band/orchestra/choir in middle school, but I’m not sure I’m going to sign up in 9th grade. Can’t I just add music back into my schedule later?
Well, technically that is true. You can always add it later; but the truth is that once you quit, you will probably never return. Unfortunately, the vast majority of students who quit band and orchestra after middle school never pick up their instruments again.  We strongly encourage you to continue with music in 9th grade. Give it a try, and we think you will like it!

If I sign up for music, can I still take a challenging academic schedule?
Yes. Music students are among the most academically gifted.  Music programs teach hard work, discipline and perseverance which enable our students to excel in the most challenging AP and G/T courses. Studies have shown that music students score an average of 62 points higher on the SATs than students who are not enrolled in music courses.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Budget time matters for music advocates

It's BUDGET time!  
Why do we need to pay attention to the budget process?  
Many times, the arts are the first items targeted for reduction when a school system is trying to balance the budget. 

What if we haven't heard anything mentioned about arts cuts?
Even when school districts are not actively cutting arts teachers and programs, there are still budget decisions being made that affect music programs. For instance, if an arts teacher retires, the principal might choose not to fill that position and instead give a heavier class load to the remaining arts teachers. These kinds of "passive" cuts still have a big impact on the way our students are educated.

That doesn't sound so bad, right?  It's not as if music classes aren't still being offered.
The problem with this is that those remaining teachers now have a course load that is overwhelming.  They have the desire to give personalized instruction to our kids, but their ability to do so is severely limited because they now have to prepare for a much bigger course load.  One of the ways that teachers have traditionally provided more individualized instruction is through section rehearsals.  These are usually pull-out group lessons that occur on a rotating basis.  Sectionals are important because they allow the teachers to work with specific groups of students based on ability or instrument.  Now that some of our teachers have a much bigger course load, they no longer have the ability to teach sectionals.  So  . . . the same courses are offered, but the actual instruction given to our kids is not the same.  

How can we help?
1. Follow along with the budget process in your school district.

2.Take the time to attend a board of education meeting and/or work session.  Listen for any mention of the arts, music, or instructional positions.  Speak positively about the value of the arts at any opportunity.

3. Gather a concerned group of parents at your home school.  Meet with your music teacher and learn about how scheduling and staffing decisions are made at that school.  Does your music teacher need you to speak up on some issue?

4. Meet with your school administrators and respectfully let them know that there is strong community support for music.  Let them know that you appreciate the difficult job they have, especially in tough economic times like these; but be clear that music is an essential part of the curriculum.  Let them know that music courses should be scheduled in such a way that students have maximum access to them and that appropriate staffing should be allocated to give our kids the best possible music education.  

5. Encourage your kids (and friends) to stick with music.  Students often come home with the news that "music doesn't fit in my schedule."  Understand that if the school community makes the effort to schedule music in a positive way, it will fit in most students' schedules.  If the community doesn't communicate that this is a value to them, then the school may not make the extra effort to create a schedule that works.  Understand that when students drop out of music classes, this actually puts the teacher's job in jeopardy.  (This doesn't mean everyone should take music whether they like it or not . . . rather it means that all students who want to take music should have a legitimate way to make it fit into their schedules.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Five Things I Wish People Knew about Music Teachers

Music Teachers are my heroes!  They have a tough job and most people have absolutely no idea what music teachers actually do.  Truthfully, I didn't know either until I met my husband.

5. Music Teachers are trained professionals.
They actually have degrees in music education, music performance or another related field.  Many have advanced degrees and certifications in specific areas of music education.  Really?  There's an actual college major for being a music teacher?  Yes, indeed!

4.  Music teachers put a lot of planning into their lessons.
It might look like the band director is just waving his arms from the podium; but in reality, he (or she!) is reading multiple lines of music at the same time, keeping the beat, signaling different instrument groups to play, listening for correct notes and rhythms and making sure students are playing the right dynamics, too.  It's the ultimate multitasking and it doesn't come without preparation.

3.  Music teachers spend a lot of their own personal time managing the music program.
All teachers spend time outside of class planning, grading, serving on committees, etc.  But for some reason even fellow teachers tend to think their music colleagues have it easy.  After all, what papers are there to grade in music?  But music teachers spend their time recruiting students, repairing instruments, creating schedules for pull-out lessons, teaching after-school ensembles, planning field trips, managing booster groups, fundraising, arranging music, writing drill, setting up for concerts, negotiating with other teachers to "share" the kids . . . the list goes on.  Do music teachers have more to do than their counterparts in other subjects?  Perhaps not.  But they certainly don't have less.

2. Music teachers have to advocate to keep their jobs year after year.
Fortunately this is not true in every school, but sadly a lot of music teachers fear for their jobs every single year.  They have to prove their value again and again because too many administrators simply don't think the arts are as important as other subjects.  When there are difficult staffing decisions to be made, whose job is on the line?  You guessed it.  It's the arts teacher!  This is one of the reasons why music teachers spend so much time recruiting.  If they don't fill the seats in their classrooms, then music classes get cut and they are out of a job.  Unlike math, science, and language arts, there's no guarantee that students will enroll.

1.  Music Teachers love what they do.
I've met a lot of teachers and most of them enjoy what they do.  But the music teachers I have met . . . well . . . they LOVE what they do.  They work with the best, brightest, most creative kids and they get to make music.  (Excuse me if I feel a little envious . . .)