My name is Tania Fleischer. I am a pianist, I have a doctorate in music and have been teaching at the university level for 20 years.
I know you care about Arts Education. I was thrilled that many of you ran for school board with a platform of advocacy for strong arts education knowing that it is vital to the intellectual and spiritual growth of human beings. But I also understand that, in facing the horror of our budget deficits, cuts need to be made, including in the arts. In deciding which arts cuts to make, however, I ask that you take into consideration a couple of ideas.
First, that you give greatest concern and respect for the more unique positions that we have in the district, and second, that you keep what works.
Unlike many people here tonight, I am not personally acquainted with Ms. Silver, I am simply concerned for the uniqueness of the English, Theater and AVPA position. You may have no one else in the district able and willing to teach this unique load. If you think the theater program is phenomenal now, just wait and see – with feeder programs like the parks and rec deelightful program and the new middle school theater program, the CCUSD theater program is already becoming a model of theater arts education to be envied. Thriving programs like this, and positions like Ms. Silver’s, keep Culver City kids from pursuing private school options.
Unfortunately, this leads me to my 2nd consideration, to keep what works. What is not working right now, what is NOT keeping Culver City parents from considering private school options, is our elementary and middle school instrumental music program. It has not grown. It is NOT a model. It is not getting better. Frankly, it’s not even educationally sound. The current program is so weak that many stronger music students are declining to participate in it. When good music students choose to skip our lower schools’ music program, we should get the message. It’s time to act.
You have the opportunity, by cutting one music position at the middle school, to restructure and improve the music program. In essence, we can make lemonade out of lemons. During this difficult time, you can offer better music education with fewer classes. It’s impossible for me to go into details tonight, but I will try to give a summary of what I’m suggesting.
We need strong ensembles where students experience the joy of playing with other musicians. Currently, due in part to the failure of the elementary school instrumental music program, we do not have enough string and wind students to staff a functioning band or orchestra. The three current bands have more drummers and electric guitarists than everything else combined. Guitars in the wrong context create problems for teachers and drive more serious music students away.
The Electric guitar is the instrument of our time, but I ask you, as a comparison, what would you think of having a middle school elective class in the Wii and Playstation? What about Java games, beginning and advanced! Sure, they’d be popular classes, but do they teach the fundamentals of computer science or mechanical engineering? Two well balanced bands would serve the students’ music education and the music program better than the current three we now have.
It cannot be the job of an underfunded public school system to provide private lessons to all students, but the acoustic guitar and piano classes support the performance of solo instruments, when instead all students should be encouraged to play a band or orchestra instrument. Young guitarists and drummers are far better off when they additionally learn a traditional instrument.
The district should be providing a better balance of music classes, providing more sound music education, and one that will more naturally feed into music offerings at the high school. The music program will improve from these better balances, and the return of the music position that we all hope for within five years will be justified by a clamoring of numbers in a stronger music program.
I understand that we can’t keep everything, that at this time, you have to make cuts. I hope you will consider these two unique situations as you make these difficult choices.