My very first work with school politics and advocacy was when I was in elementary school. Our school music program was facing the possibility of being cut way back, and my mom had put together a flier designed to build support. We had a copy machine in our basement, and my job was to run all the copies. This was back in a time when paper jams and small toner cartridges were the challenges of the day, so I got to have a little more fun than just pushing buttons and keeping a tally of how many copies we had made. Once word got out that we were doing this, the school district - wisely seeking to avoid a big public brouhaha - pivoted... ultimately a property tax override got passed, and we got to keep our music program.
Our music program at the time was relatively small, but very consistent. A few kids started on instruments each year in 4th and 5th grades, we had a high school band with 30-40 people in it, concert band, and a decent sized chorus. The community was clearly looking for more, and took a giant step with a critical band director hire right before I entered high school. Over the next five years, the program massively expanded, the marching band went competitive and tripled in size, we had two jazz bands, quality musicals, and much more. I performed on saxophone, french horn, trumpet, and mellophone across various jazz bands, concert bands, chamber orchestras, and musicals... and also served as one of our high school marching band's drum majors for two years. Amazing times, and super fun.
As parents at Monta Loma and Crittenden, my wife and I have been pleased with the opportunities available to our kids, and I don't think everyone realizes how lucky we are in Mountain View to have the performing arts programming that we do. Three middle school orchestras at Crittenden! Guitar classes! Musicals! Choral groups! Band! CSMA classes in the elementary schools! We finally got real performing arts auditoriums! And - every student in our elementary schools has to do an instrument, chorus, or art in 5th grade. This is fantastic, both in terms of opportunities for kids interested in the performing arts, and in ensuring all of our kids have a basic level of appreciation for the arts. The District, MVEF, and CSMA should all be commended.
So - why am I talking about strengthening the arts? Aren't things good enough?
Believe it or not, I think we can do better.
First, start with equity of programming. Why does Graham Middle School have a jazz band, but Crittenden does not? If it's a matter of not having enough musicians, why are the elementary schools north of El Camino generating fewer musicians than the ones south of El Camino? If it's a matter of instruction, why can't we support a broader scope? Are there cultural differences which are leading kids to make different choices? We can ask similar questions about any differences between the two middle school programs - and we should. I believe arts programming is part of the minimum equitable standard in our District - we need to make sure we've got that nailed so that no matter where a child lives in Mountain View, he/she/they have opportunity and access.
Second, grow participation. My biggest concern here is the size of the high school band programs, especially at LAHS. "But wait Patrick, why does that matter for a K-8 district?" This is where the lessons learned growing up, with that growing music program, come in. The only way to really drive up the size of a high school band program is to get more kids involved at the beginning, usually in 5th grade. Show them what the high school band looks and sounds like. Make sure parents have the right financial support to buy or rent instruments. Then retain musicians as they move into middle school - and even offer the most talented 8th graders the opportunity to perform with the high school groups. I'm oversimplifying a bit - there are other things that can help with a full-court-press in this area, and quality of instruction is a key factor that always needs to be there - but we can get even more kids into these programs, and set up our high schools with even more incoming talent.
Third, open up our facilities. MVWSD's two auditoriums are two of the best performance halls in our local area. Very good acoustics, seating, and size for different performances. If you've seen any show or concert there, you know what I'm talking about. But talk to the teachers, and you'll hear that the controls are very difficult to use. Not only is that a problem to solve for today's programming, that's a critical barrier to enabling others to make good use of the auditoriums. So let's fix that, and let's also talk about a community policy that will enable greater use of these spaces. We had an auditorium at my junior high school... besides using it for classes (the band and youth orchestras practiced there because they were too big for the fairly-tiny music classroom), we used it for assemblies, special classes, non-school-affiliated youth music group rehearsals, and more. Maybe we try things like that in Mountain View? Depending on the event, perhaps a small usage fee could help offset the additional costs. This was part of the original promise of the auditoriums for Measure G, was an important part of the rationale for the Board majority that supported them, and we need to follow through on this.
Finally... address the impact of COVID-19. We're experiencing this first hand, as our older child is not able to perform on violin right now, and our younger child really struggled to get into playing an instrument after elementary school programming was curtailed last Spring. I know many others are struggling as well. Because group rehearsals and performances are so difficult right now, COVID is going to impact both quality and the number of kids who continue with the performing arts. That's yet another sad consequence of the pandemic and our response to it. We're going to need to redouble our efforts to get kids excited about performing arts, try to get kids to come back who may have gotten frustrated and left, and make sure we're not making any short-term cuts to programming (based on current enrollment) which might cause us to lose critical teaching talent.
I recognize that the performing arts aren't for everyone - but the arts are part of what makes us human, and an essential part of our community and culture. Music programs can be great opportunities for leaders to develop. Careers can get started there. As someone who has been a committed musician since I was 11 years old, I'd love to be able to play a part in setting policy for our schools that promotes the arts, and helps take our programs to the next level.