Brian O'Connell's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

Arts instruction increases achievement across all disciplines and develops the whole child. What will you do as a school committee member to champion arts education for our youth both in our schools and communities? How will you balance the importance of arts education with the constant pull to teach to the test?

Throughout my tenure on the Worcester School Committee, I have contended, as you state so well in your questionnaire, that “[a]rts instruction increases achievement across all disciplines and develops the whole child.” In years of fiscal challenge, especially in the wake of Proposition 2 ½, I fought to maintain funding for instruction in art and music within our schools, and to support the positions and resources necessary for them. I will continue to do so. Arts instruction is not a luxury in education – it is a vital curricular component which can enhance appreciation of numerous other disciplines, such as history, language, mathematics and science. For some students, who develop a passion and skill in the arts, instruction in this area, and opportunities to demonstrate their skill, often provides a reason to enjoy school, and in certain instances to remain in school. It can encourage self-confidence as well, which can lead to success in other aspects of education. Of course, appreciation of art and music enriches our entire lives, and remains with us more than some of the more prosaic facts and skills we master during our years in school. I am particularly pleased with the performing arts curriculum we offer in music, dance and theatre at Worcester Arts Magnet School, and at Burncoat Middle and High Schools. A variety of other elementary schools offer instrumental lessons for students in grades three through six. Middle schools can provide instruction in music, and encourage participation in their concert bands. High school music initiatives, including concert or marching bands (the latter at South High Community School), and sophisticated vocal and instrumental groups have received substantial acclaim in recent years. These efforts continue to grow. High school music instruction culminates now in the advanced placement courses we offer. Our curriculum includes courses in dance, band, concert band, theatre, choral and vocal training, orchestra, music theory, jazz, piano, songwriting, string orchestra and wind chamber performance skills, and an after-school ensemble program, mostly, but not exclusively, in the Burncoat magnet program. Clearly, expanding the course and programmatic offerings of this program to more schools throughout Worcester, will be a challenge of the next term. The visual arts program follows a similar sequence, beginning with progressively more sophisticated instruction through elementary and middle school. It continues with a range of options at secondary level, including two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements and principles of design, drawing, and painting. In both areas, the curriculum follows closely the Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Frameworks, and much of its content can be found also in the National Common Core in the Arts. However, I am not yet convinced that we immerse our students in the arts as fully as is feasible for us.

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