Local program named among top 100 education efforts in the nation.
By Tim Leeds
A national survey of music programs has included the program at Blue Sky schools in Rudyard among the top 100 in the United States.
"We feel the music program is really one of our showcase programs," Blue Sky superintendent Ellis Parry said Tuesday. "It's a significant honor."
Ellis said the company that conducted the Internet-based survey also made several calls to people in the community to gather information about the music program, "and all we did was talk with pride."
Christopher Jeka, music instructor for the schools, is a very qualified instructor who enjoys music, plays music himself and does a good job teaching his students, including giving private lessons, Ellis said. A lot of credit for Blue Sky's high ranking also has to go to the district School Board and to the community's support of the program, he added.
This is the second year the survey, sponsored jointly by the American Music Conference, the Music Teachers National Association, the National School Boards Association, Yamaha Corporation of America and VH1 Save the Music Foundation, has been conducted to identify the top 100 sites of quality music education in the country.
Debbie DiMaio, senior account executive for Giles Communications LLC, the company publicizing the survey, said every school district in the country was contacted and districts responded by the thousands.
The survey, conducted in March and April over the Internet by Perseus Development Corp., asked questions about funding, enrollment, student-teacher ratios, participation in music classes, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, participation in private music lessons and other factors about the community's quality of music education. The responses were audited in phone calls to district officials, and the sponsoring organizations reviewed the data.
Perseus Development calculated each community's score based on the answers to each of the questions in the survey. The top 100 are not ranked but are merely listed in alphabetical order.
Ellis said that when he first received the news that Blue Sky made the top 100, he wasn't sure about the honor. At first he thought it might be followed by some kind of an offer to the district to buy music equipment at a discount, or some other proposal.
Ellis said it was easy for him to answer the questions on the survey with pride, saying "we do this and we do this" to make the music program excel. He said the support from the School Board and the community goes back for many years, making it easier to provide quality instruction.
A key to quality education is for the teachers to foster a lifelong love of learning, and the quality teachers Blue Sky has and has had makes that easy for the district to do, he added.
An example of community support is the new electric piano the schools' Parent Teacher Organization helped to buy. Ellis said school staffers had a hard time moving a standard piano between floors, and that moving a piano usually makes it out of tune as well. The PTO got wind of that, Ellis said, and helped the school buy a new electric piano, which is easier to transport and stays in tune when it's moved.
He said the School Board also helps provide high quality instruction for the 135-student district.
"My board is incredibly supportive of making the necessary purchases to make sure our kids have a quality music education," he said.
The board several years ago approved construction of a new building for the program, providing a large instruction room, choir risers and other facilities for students to study music.
"I guess the feeling of the board was to show a large commitment to music," he said.
Ellis said the pride and support the community has for the music program is obvious at concerts. One thing he really enjoys is looking at the faces in the crowd.
"You can watch the crowd and just see the pride the parents have in what their kids are doing," he said.
Ellis said Jeka, who got married at the end of June and is away on his honeymoon right now, does a lot to make the program excel. Jeka works with the School Board to make sure the students have the equipment they need. For instance, Ellis said, Jeka requested specially designed chairs to make sure his students had the proper posture for playing, and the district spent $2,800 to buy the chairs.
Two other Montana districts made the list: the Scobey School District and the Lockwood district in Billings.