At the Sierra Sands Unified School District Board of Directors’ regular meeting on December 15, presentations from recent musical achievements and new funding streams generated enthusiasm about the future of performing and visual arts in our school. .
At the beginning of the conference, Superintendent David Ostash introduced Amber Petersen and Brian Costner, the respective directors of the Burroughs High School Orchestra Choir and Band, as 63 students rehearsed and performed in Hawaii. , marches and tours, part of the Pearl Harbor Day commemoration program.
“It’s really exciting,” says Ostash. “But I also thought it was appropriate given that the board approved $3.1 million in arts and music grants later tonight.” (See background at the end of this article.) ).
Ostache noted that this is the first significant injection of state funding into the arts since Proposition 13 was introduced in the 1970s. “We are very fortunate to have Petersen, Costner and the rest of the Music Education team ready to take our music program to the next level.”
Costner introduced himself as a longtime “band kid” and current director of BHS and Monroe’s Band.
During trips to Hawaii, he and Petersen led bands, choirs, and orchestra students to perform for audiences aboard the USS Missouri, honorary choir performances and parades for the Pearl Harbor Memorial, geography I got a close look at some of the most interesting and magical places on Oahu.
“The experience of leaving Ridgecrest and boarding a plane was a first for many students,” Costner said. “It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in cultural and historical experiences and musical performance opportunities.”
Thomas Wonnacott, a BHS senior and symphony drum major, talks about the benefits of having students like himself participate in the experience.
Petersen said her first year of teaching was in 2020, and educators struggled to translate instruction through distance learning. “It was disastrous…students didn’t get the benefit of connecting directly with each other.” Even when small cohorts were opened, reintegrating students into live performances was a challenge. “Our music program fell to its knees.”
It has improved over the last year with performance changes at 5 BHS courses. This year, there will be 2 orchestral classes, 3 chorus classes, and 3 band classes, for a total of 8 classes.
When the invite to Hawaii came in last spring, she and Costner were looking for new ways to bring the program to life. was.
“The support from parents, students and school districts has been phenomenal,” said Petersen, adding that he is thrilled to hear about the new investment in music. “It’s a thrilling time to build a successful music program.”
Later in the conference, Dr. Michelle Savko, Vice Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, identified several funding sources that will enable the district’s schools to plan $3.1 million for the 2025-26 school year.
Legislative Bills 181 and 185, both approved this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, set out $3.5 billion in discretionary block grants for arts, music and educational materials. Of this funding, Sierra Sands is eligible to receive nearly $3.1 million.
The district has developed a process that invites public input and professional oversight to identify and meet student needs. Savko said parents have shown that restoring comprehensive music education in primary schools is a top priority.
The district plan, which she said was highly modifiable, would establish four full-time music teachers in elementary schools and provide funding for music and arts materials. , but benefits are also given to both middle and high school.
Another unexpected boost to the music program, Savko told the board, came from a 60 percent reimbursement of district transportation fees from the state. We are now able to provide additional support for the program.
“This has taken a long time, so I think we are all concerned about getting this right,” said Board Chairman Bill Farris. “Building for the long-term benefit of our community When you have something like this that you can do, it’s very exciting and rewarding.”