The Schenectady, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Niskayuna school districts have all been recognized for excellence in music education.
The three districts were among 476 named by the National Association of Music Merchants as having both a superb music education program and supportive communities that offer added experiences for students.
“The award is actually the best community for music education. It recognizes not only the school but the surrounding community,” explained Chad Shippee, music director at Niskayuna.
This was the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s fourth time receiving the recognition.
“We’ve received it each time we applied,” said Peter Giroux, director of fine arts for the district. “I think it’s a nice recognition to have and it’s something to be proud of to receive it year after year.”
Earning the NAMM award is a goal for the district each year, according to Giroux.
“It’s a source of pride and what it means is that the students achieve at a high level. It means we have a high-quality staff and a supportive administration and board of education and a supportive community — they give support verbally and physically but they support us by giving money that we need to provide our program,” he said of what makes the district worthy of the award.
For Giroux, the work the program has been able to accomplish begins when the students are young.
“With the strong teachers that we have from the elementary level to the high school, our students get a real strong foundation of music and we give them opportunities to enhance their skills and it makes them achieve at a higher level and also because of our community and administration support we are able to offer them a high level of experience.”
This is Giroux’s first year as the director of fine arts for the district. Previously he was the band director at the high school for 25 years.
“As the new district director, I’m going to continue to work at improving our program and offer our students the most that we can. It’s important to me that we get recognition for what we achieve,” he said. “I want to keep the streak going and continue to receive the recognition.”
Because thousands of districts across the country seek the honor, Giroux doesn’t take receiving the recognition lightly.
“In a day and age that arts programs are often secondary to school sports programs, it’s nice for the school arts programs to be recognized and have an avenue for that recognition,” Giroux said.
Niskayuna has received recognition from the NAMM foundation three years in a row.
“It’s nice to not only recognize our program but to recognize the community that supports us,” said Shippee, the district music director. “We always have a goal to provide the best education possible to our students and without the community there’s a lot of opportunities we couldn’t have.”
The district is able to be a strong contender for the award because of the strong support that it receives.
“The district supports the program and invests in the program but also the students and the families really value the importance of music education and encourage the students to succeed and do their best,” Shippee said. “[And] we have a top-notch teaching staff here, very qualified, very dedicated. All of that together makes the program really stand out.”
Christina Pizzino-Catalano, the director of choral studies at Niskayuna High School, has worked in the district for eight years and was not surprised that it was recognized yet again for the music education it offers.
“I think that we offer a diverse program, so you have the band, orchestra, choral program, but there’s so much that goes into it and there’s so many opportunities that go into it,” she said. “We as a faculty try to make it exciting and better and better every year and we have the support of the community, whether it’s the administration, the faculty, students supporting students.”
This is Schenectady’s third time earning NAMM recognition, according to Kathleen Beck, fine arts supervisor for the district, which also earned it in 2015 and 2013.
“It’s not that we’re striving to receive the award,” she said. “But we’re striving to support the program.”
Supporting the program through the instruction, teaching staff and administration has paid off in more ways than just the NAMM recognition. The high school music program received the Grammy Signature School Community Award for the first time this year.
“When I spoke with the person from the Grammy foundation, one of the reasons we received the award is because of the extensive programs we have at the high school,” Beck said.
The district was notified that it won last week.
“It really creates an awareness in the community in that we are unique and we support the arts,” said Beck of the awards. “Schenectady has one of the best communities in terms of supporting the arts.”