Players in the winds section of the Salmon Arm Secondary jazz band provide a melody during their performance in the special edition of Wednesdays on the Wharf celebrating Brian Pratt-Johnson’s 30 years of teaching music in Salmon Arm. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Players in the winds section of the Salmon Arm Secondary jazz band provide a melody during their performance in the special edition of Wednesdays on the Wharf celebrating Brian Pratt-Johnson’s 30 years of teaching music in Salmon Arm. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Music program discord attributed to lack of oversight

North-Okanagan-Shuswap schools struggle to retain musical excellence amidst many challenges

A long-awaited report on the state of School District #83’s music programs echoed the sentiment that music is a key part of the district’s arts curriculum – despite the many struggles the program continues to face.

The North Okanagan-Shuswap board of education received the report during their Feb. 19 meeting from external consultant Sandra Jones, a former superintendent of schools and music teacher who was brought in to evaluate the program.

In her report, Jones notes music lessons became a core part of students’ education experience with the introduction of teacher prep time, when music teachers would fill in to teach a class.

Read More: Changes cause discord over school music program

“A strong music teacher in a single site brings more than just music instruction. In the best case, there appears to be a positive and engaged culture where music bonds the entire teaching community,” Jones said.

Jones’ report details the ups and downs of the district’s “School of Music,” noting that, despite never officially achieving status as a standalone school, it held a special place in the heart of music lovers within the district.

The School of Music was lost with the transition to the District Education Support Centre, which now houses all the district’s instruments and requires prior approval to access. This loss of a central space and title was seen by music teachers as a blow to the district’s music program and complicated things such as organizing practice and acquiring instruments.

In addition, Jones noted the vice-principal role created to coordinate the district music program has morphed into a teacher-coordinator role over the years. This occurred largely during the fallout after the Board of Education was dissolved in 2016 and replaced with a single trustee, leaving the coordinator with less time and resources to oversee the music program.

Additionally, tightening of budgets on a broad scale within school districts means less money for specialty courses. Jones noted that, likely due to poor communication, these cuts were seen by some as an attack on music education and led to a defensive stance.

Read More: Salmon Arm home to a thriving jazz music scene

Also noted in the report is a shift to a more broad education in artistic expression, outlined in the new curriculum for B.C. schools. A focus strictly on music could be seen as contrary to this curriculum goal, though Jones notes in her report that popular school projects such as musical theatre bridge this gap effectively in the district.

A possible advantage a focus on music brings is an easy transition into Indigenous learning principles, as there is a rich history of traditional First Nations music to cover. Jones notes that “music teachers are very willing to work with the School District’s Indigenous Education Department to successfully integrate Aboriginal content and the First Peoples Principles of Learning into the music program.”

Concluding her report, Jones said “the district music program should be recognized for its excellence… All stakeholders who were interviewed expressed a sense of pride in the work that is being accomplished.” She also recommended “building on the strong foundation of past music programming… rather than yearning for an idealized past.”



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