RCS among best in nation for supporting music education

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 2, 2014

 Adams High School band director James Ferdon conducts the wind ensemble.

Adams High School band director James Ferdon conducts the wind ensemble.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

ROCHESTER — Rochester Community Schools is one of 15 districts in the state recently recognized as the Best Communities for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation.

This year, out of the nation’s 13,588 school districts, the foundation designated 376 districts as Best Communities for Music Education — a program that applauds outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the core curriculum.

The foundation — with the assistance of researchers at The Institute for Educational Research and Public Service of Lawrence, Kansas, an affiliate of the University of Kansas — evaluated schools and districts based on funding, staffing of highly qualified teachers, commitment to standards, and access to music instruction. Designations were made to districts and schools that demonstrated an exceptionally high commitment and greater access to music education, according to the foundation.

Mary Luehrsen, foundation executive director, said in a statement that the schools and districts recognized make a strong commitment to music education in the core curriculum, supporting its essential value to a well-rounded education for every child.

“Strong, engaging programs that offer students access to music cannot thrive in a vacuum. The Best Communities designation ... brings hard-won and well-deserved visibility to music classes, programs and departments that are keeping music education alive in our schools,” she said.

Debbi Hartman, the district’s community relations director, said RCS is honored to be recognized by the Namm Foundation as a Best Community for Music Education.

“We believe that the arts play a vital role in student achievement and are pleased to offer a comprehensive education that includes music instruction at all levels,” she said in an email.

Despite budget constraints, K-12 Music Program Coordinator Cheryl Ogonowski said RCS continues to make a strong commitment to music education.

“I am very proud of what our students achieve and what our teachers are able to provide for them with limited resources. It’s something to celebrate,” she said.

However, Ogonowski — who is also a music teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School — admits it has been a challenge. She said the key to keeping the district’s music program going strong has been the relationships teachers form with their students.

“The funding that has been provided by the state, and limited within our own district, does place challenges on all of us for maintaining the equipment — because it is very expensive to have instruments, and the chairs and the stands and the risers and the production equipment that you need on the stage and in the auditorium. All of that is very expensive and has impacted us, but I feel that the credit really goes to the staff members and the teachers who have really placed their students, and their students’ needs, at a high level.”

Along with funding challenges, Ogonowski said the district’s music program also faces challenges in regards to student scheduling, since the state has placed additional requirements for graduation.

“That makes it difficult for students to fit in their music class — even though they really love it and want to be in that class — in their schedules, but I think the relationships that the teachers have created with their students has helped keep those courses as a priority for those students and the families of those students. It’s a challenge, but up to this point, we have been meeting it, and we hope to be able to continue to do that,” she said.

Rochester Community Schools is proud to offer regular music classes as part of its curriculum in grades K-12, according to Ogonowski.

“At the elementary level, we meet twice a week for 30 minutes each session … and all of the teachers that teach music are highly qualified,” she said. “At the sixth-grade level, students select to be in band or choir, and they are expected to continue their music into the middle school years. After that, they can select how they want to continue with their music.”

The music department offerings at the high school level include three concert bands, marching band and five choirs that all meet during the school day, she said. The choral courses include treble choir for ninth-grade female singers, men’s choir for ninth-grade male singers, a mixed concert choir, an auditioned mixed chorale and the highly selective chamber singers. The instrumental courses include concert band for incoming students, symphony band and wind ensemble. The elective courses include marching band, which meets outside of the school day for credit, music theory and guitar. A heavy emphasis is placed on solo and ensemble participation, and chamber music, throughout the program, Ogonowski said.

“Our secondary, sixth- through 12th-grade, students who participate in band and choir do performances for the community and for families as an opportunity for the students to grow in their performance abilities. In addition to that, we have students who participate in musical theater in all three high schools, as well as through the summer with a summer music theater program that, again, includes students grades six-12 from across the district — every high school and every middle school,” she explained.

The district’s active parents are another large part of why the music program is so successful, according to Ogonowski.

“This honor is really an honor for the community — it’s not just for the students, the directors or the district — and I think the fact that we have high attendance at our performances and a lot of parent support for our boosters clubs for music is indicative of the value that the community places on our music programs,” she said. “We do have a very strong program that is essential to student growth, and I’m pleased that our community recognizes that, and I’m hoping that they will continue to do so.”

Other nearby Michigan districts recognized include Troy, Oxford, Utica and Bloomfield Hills.