A standing-room only crowd spilled out into the hallway, as interested parents, school board officials, city council and school board hopefuls, Burbank Unified teachers and administrators and Burbank Arts For All Foundation members listened to a panel discuss BUSD music education Wednesday evening, January 21, in Roosevelt Elementary’s music room.
Moderated by BAFA Executive Director Trena Pitchford, the panel of BUSD Visual/Performing Arts Coordinator Peggy Flynn, Burbank High School music teacher Michael Stanley, Jordan Middle School band director Dr. John Whitener and elementary school music teacher Steven Hollis discussed the current status of music education in Burbank schools.
Flynn gave a brief outline of the history of BUSD music education programs over the past two decades. She emphasized that the second most requested item for funding in the LCAP survey held in 2014 was more music education in the schools.
Flynn noted that the priority placed on music education by parents, teachers and members of the community in the LCAP survey resulted in the hiring of two additional music teachers at the elementary level by the district for the 2014-15 school year, with plans to hire an additional teacher for the 2016-17 school year.
Currently, Burbank Unified provides weekly general music instruction for grades two through five, with plans to add weekly music instruction for Kindergarten and first-graders district-wide.
After weekly elementary music instruction is implemented and sustainable, Flynn said, adding string programs to Luther, Jordan and Burroughs and weekly instrumental instruction beginning in grade five and adding younger grades, working backward, would be goals. She did acknowledge those additional goals were not easily obtainable with current funding.
Muir Middle School and Burbank High School have string, vocal and band music programs. Luther and Jordan Middle Schools and Burroughs High School have band and vocal music programs.
The three BUSD teachers on the panel talked about the importance of music in the school curriculum and discussed aspects of their teaching at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Hollis mentioned that during the school year when students start learning about fractions in math class, he starts to see “light bulbs going off” in his music students, as they relate fractions to note values. He also sees connections and overlap with his music class and topics students learn not only in math, but in history and language arts.
Whitener discussed the comprehensive band program at Jordan, noting that while “the vast majority of students in middle and high school music programs don’t go into music after school, they do become consumers of music” and perhaps continue to play an instrument for fun or in a garage band.
“We want to equip them with the information and techniques and skills they have to apply to any style of music,” Whitener added, explaining he teaches students to be more musically literate with information that can apply to any instrument.
“You can’t just work all your life, you need something else going on in your life and to express yourself creatively… and music is the perfect thing for that,” said Whitener.
Stanley highlighted Burbank High’s award-winning music program, with band, jazz, string and AP Music Theory classes. Students who get As in the theory class tend to score fours and fives on the AP test, he said.
The BHS string program is currently studying chamber music, Stanley said, adding that such a focus requires students learn to work together and work with people, skills that are applicable to the wider world and not just relegated to chamber music groups.
The addition of two music teachers to the elementary school rotation has been huge, acknowledged Hollis. Whereas in previous years he was seeing 2000 different students every other week, now he teaches the same 1000 students every week. He sees the children remember more from previous classes and are learning more.
Flynn noted that a VH-1 Save the Music grant and support from the Education Through Music – LA foundation have helped provide weekly music programs at Providencia and Washington Elementary Schools, in addition to a fourth and fifth-grade string program at Providencia. Leadership Burbank 2013 also donated violins to a fledgling string program at Roosevelt Elementary.
Flynn encouraged parents and community members to speak with their principals and school music teachers about the creation of sustainable music programs at individual schools, answering parent concerns the lack of string music programs at Luther, Jordan and Burroughs. She mentioned the City of Burbank is discussing creating an all-city orchestra, as a possible option.
Ultimately, the hiring of more music teachers throughout the district is the best possible remedy for growing music education, Flynn said.
“There’s no substitute for having a music class taught by a professional music teacher,” she explained.
BAFA Community Outreach Co-Chair Suzanne Weerts opened the meeting, noting the attendance of four sitting Burbank Board of Education members: Dave Kemp, Ted Bunch, Charlene Tabet and Dr. Roberta Reynolds, who is also running to extend her term on the Board. Weerts also welcomed the attendance of additional candidates for the school board, including Steve Ferguson, Dr. Armond Aghakhanian, Vahe Hovanessian and Greg Sousa, along with Burbank City Council candidates Chris Rizzotti and Sharon Springer.
BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Dr. Tom Kissinger and Director of Instruction and Accountability Sharon Cuseo, along with numerous school principals and teachers also attended the community meeting.
The BAFA Community Meeting was held in Roosevelt Elementary’s new music room, which was remodeled with a $10,000 grant from Ikea. Roosevelt’s music room is the only dedicated elementary music room in the district.