A District Where Music Still Thrives
While funding woes and NCLB mandates have led many school districts to cut music programs, Bay Shore, N.Y., remains steadfast in its support of all forms of arts education. This hamlet on the south shore of Long Island, an hour east of Manhattan, serves more than 6,000 students—children of poverty, wealth, of many faiths and multiple ethnic backgrounds. Music in particular is a cohesive force for this diverse school population and the community at large.
"The arts have always been part of the core curriculum here, not a frill," says recently retired Evelyn Blose Holman, the superintendent of the Bay Shore Union Free School District for 17 years. "Everybody around us is cutting programs," she says. "We've lost positions, but we've done it by attrition."
Scores and Awards
During Holman's tenure, Bay Shore's average SAT scores rose more than 200 points, AP course offerings tripled, and the high school gained International Baccalaureate (IB) status. The district also piled up annual awards for excellence in music-related education in the past decade, including seven from the NA MM Foundation (National Association of Music Merchants), four from the Grammy Foundation, and two from the Apple Distinguished Educators Program.
"Responsible fiscal management has been a big part of everything we've been able to do," says Terry Nigrelli, director of cultural arts for the district. A trombonist and former music teacher, Nigrelli is proud of his "dream team" of certified, full-time music teachers whose positions are supported entirely by general funds in voter-approved budgets.
The music faculty provides a continuity of instruction from kindergarten through high school, including group instrumental lessons available during the school day from fourth grade on. Additional low-cost instrumental music lessons offered every summer after third grade help the district achieve up to a 75-percent student-participation rate in lower-grade bands, orchestras and choirs during the school year.
"As programs, academics and athletics become more demanding," Nigrelli says, "participation drops to roughly 50 percent through middle school and 40 percent in high school. But many students keep with music while playing on varsity teams." Advanced music students perform at hospitals, local fund-raising events, and with the Bay Shore Community Band, a group of teachers and teens that has helped revive interest in a once flagging downtown by drawing hundreds of residents to free summer concerts.
The summer band conductor is Ted Scalzo, a veteran Bay Shore High School music director and teacher who has received national acclaim for melding music and technology. Scalzo uses Smart- Music interactive software to engage students in the classroom and during practice time at home. Scalzo and Nigrelli have also created a state-of-the-art integrated multimedia lab. Students working in the lab learn advanced music theory, compose and arrange music, and create professional-quality videos and DVDs that incorporate their compositions.
An Unshakeable Alliance
Evelyn Blose Holman credits the vibrancy of Bay Shore arts programs to an unshakeable alliance of district administrators, long-serving board members and teachers, parents, local businesses, wealthy benefactors, and three fund-raising community groups, including the Bay Shore School Arts Education Fund.
Holman passes the baton to incoming superintendent Peter J. Dion who also has an enthusiasm for the arts and an extensive record of building school-community partnerships in the diverse Novi Community (Mich.) School District.