Schenectady schools lauded for arts programs

The Schenectady School District has made an art out of picking up awards.
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The Schenectady School District has made an art out of picking up awards.

Most recently, the district has won a national award for its commitment to arts education. The city’s schools were singled out by the Kennedy Center Education Network and the National School Boards Association for providing arts education in visual arts, music, theater and dance.

Schenectady Board of Education President Jeff Janiszewski and board member Lisa Russo received the 20th annual award and a $10,000 prize at the School Board Association’s annual conference Monday in Orlando, Fla.

In November, the district had won a statewide award from the Alliance for Arts and Education and the New York State School Board Association. This put the district in the running for the national award.

Janiszewski said the award represents decades of efforts by school board members, administrators, teachers and taxpayers, all who understood the importance of the arts.

“We believe that involvement in the arts at the early stages actually builds intellectual capability,” he said.

“Our students are not just performing, they’re creating product and therefore, obviously, stretching their intellect,” he said. “Those are some of the things that make us the best in the nation.”

He said the judges were also impressed by the amount of community collaboration, including residencies, field trips and professional development programs. One example of a partnership is with Proctors, Janiszewski said. “That’s another thing we want to broaden and expand.”

Darrell Ayers, vice president for education for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said he was impressed that Schenectady makes sure that every child has arts education throughout his or her academic career. In some districts, students will have arts education one year but not the next.

“We wouldn’t teach math that way yet a lot of school districts deny children exposure to the arts,” he said.

Another factor in Schenectady’s favor is it devotes about 5 percent of the instructional budget to arts education and allows students to focus on the four disciplines.

One of the features is the John Sayles School of Fine Arts, which is a 42,000-square-foot wing at the high school. It has the Blue Roses Theatre Company, which has performed more than 40 shows. They offer dance programs including jazz, tap, ballet and Afro-Brazilian. It also offers Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses including Studio in Art and drawing.

Ayers said every year between 10 and 12 school districts vie for the national award. Districts must submit a lengthy report documenting programs and the involvement from the parents and community at large. Since 1989, the award has recognized 39 school boards in 24 states.

Fine arts Coordinator Nancy Lussier and John Sayles School of Fine Arts House Principal Peg Normandin also attended the award ceremony in Orlando.

Superintendent Eric Ely called the Kennedy Center award a real honor, and noted the district is looking at expanding its current concept of a kindergarten through sixth-grade magnet school for the arts to kindergarten through eighth grade.

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