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Academics and the Arts - The Best of Both Worlds

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Both academic instruction and fine arts education are doing well in the Lake Pend Oreille School District

I have been told that some parents shun the public school system for their students because they believe the focus on testing requirements for the No Child Left Behind Act comes at the expense of a fine arts program. As the superintendent of schools, I know that simply isn’t true - I strongly believe that our excellent teaching staff and supportive arts community delivers for our students in both areas, arts and academics, proving that both can exist together. This is a rare combination in our local educational community and one of which I am particularly proud.

There is an artist in all of us; even in those reluctant to sing, dance, paint, write, perform on the stage or with a musical group. The arts are alive and well in the Lake Pend Oreille School District even as the demands of No Child Left Behind direct much of our focus on the tested areas of mathematics, reading and language usage.

For those who criticize testing related to NCLB, I would say there is an element of testing that is valid and very real. I agree with much of the concern regarding testing, however, I also believe that successful testing of performance and an extensive fine arts program can be nicely coupled. I know this can happen because I get the opportunity to see it daily.

To downplay standard measures and testing expectations is to do a disservice to students. At what age testing should begin is certainly a worthy debate. However, make no mistake; they will be tested to enter college. They will be tested to pass job certifications. They will be tested in a variety of ways throughout their lives whether it is for a driver’s license, food handling permit, or employment. I know that when I see a physician, I want to speak to a person who has passed all certifications. When I hire an electrician to perform some work, I count on the fact that they have met standards because the safety of my family depends upon their competency. When a 16 year old lifeguard is stationed at the beach, I want them certified. The majority of our students are doing a great job meeting academic standards.

However, our students are also enjoying a rich and varied fine arts experience. I was reminded of this when I attended a vocal music concert at Washington Elementary on a recent evening. The fifth graders, under the direction of Linda Ryan, were singing with gusto and skill. The music and oral readings captured the fight for equal rights for all American citizens. It was well done and worthy of a "Bravo." My visits to other schools for evening programs tell me our students are receiving great instruction and they are enjoying the stretching of their vocal chords. When I see the great artwork adorning the walls of our elementary and secondary schools, I am thankful for the volunteer efforts of our community, particularly CAL and the Kaleidoscope program, to bring visual arts to our schools and the enthusiasm our regular teachers show for this partnership.

This year I have attended numerous elementary concerts, both vocal and instrumental. The participation by students and staff has been stellar. Our sixth grade instrumental music program is the largest it has ever been. In some elementary schools, almost every sixth grader plays an instrument! This is possible because of generous donations by community members of both musical instruments and dollars to repair instruments. If a student wishes to learn, they are encouraged by their homeroom teachers to get involved. The Festival at Sandpoint, in fact, now budgets $18,000 per year in their instrument assistance program to help ensure that all students have an instrument to play. This commitment by a staff and community is rare in my educational experience. I have personally heard the bands at Southside, Northside, Kootenai and Farmin Stidwell this year and have been very impressed. Greg Shuh is a man of great patience; with a love for kids and music.

As our students transition to middle school they find eager teachers in vocal and instrumental music, and art. Ryan Dignan, Jon Brownell, Linda Navarre, and Adriane Ineck truly enjoy their work and help students tap into the creative arts. This compliments the academic program which typically produces the highest testing middle school group in our community. They are proof that focused school work and arts can work together.

As students advance to high school, again, we find great teachers with a passion for truly helping students explore their creativity. Visual art, vocal music, drama, instrumental music, with many extra curricular activities tied to them are readily available and pursued. For our most interested and talented students Advanced Placement opportunities are available in art, instrumental music, and music theory. Our students are some of the most talented in Idaho!

In addition, most of our students are given the opportunity to enjoy exciting performances at the Panida, again sponsored by generous donors. In this case it is POAC. Watching professionals ply their craft on the stage gives even our most reluctant young performers, the beginning of a dream or even the simple appreciation for the creative arts.

Finally, all fifth grade students are introduced to the symphony each spring as the Festival at Sandpoint brings a professional orchestra to area classrooms. They also provide those students and their families with over 800 free tickets to attend the Symphony’s Grand Finale concert for the Festival Season. Performances, conducted by Maestros Gary Sheldon and Verne Windham, will take place this year at Sagle and Hope elementary schools on Tuesday, June 3; at Washington and Southside elementary schools on Thursday, June 5; and at Farmin-Stidwell on Friday, June 6.

The next time someone tells you that high academic expectations and testing are ruining the fine arts; make sure you tell them to visit our schools. Our students are getting the best of both worlds. It is not an either/ or proposition. They are receiving a demanding and well-rounded education in a great partnership between talented children, committed teachers, and a supportive arts community. It is special.

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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