KSS music academy closer to reality

Program one way to retain more students at a school once considered expendable

A music academy

A music academy

The Kwalikum Secondary School (KSS) music program is nationally recognized for its continuing tradition of excellence with many famous players involved over the years including Qualicum Beach’s own Juno Award winner, Phil Dwyer, and former instructor, trumpeter Bill Cave — so it is no surprise the School District 69 (Qualicum) board of trustees were enthusiastic about moving forward with a music academy that could be up and running for the 2012/2013 school year.

The music academy would operate mainly out of KSS with expertise from Dave Stewart and Dan Craven — the teachers who for many years have been building the music department.

Stewart told the school board on Tuesday night there would also be collaboration with Ballenas Secondary School and in the future the middle schools would be involved.

“The plan is to make it district wide to involve all of our students,” said Stewart.

The program would give students a higher performance level and the hope is it will attract more international students and generate some revenue for the school district.

“It would satisfy the demand for advanced training and provide training to international students.”

He said it would go well beyond the scope of existing programs and lead to live performances and virtuoso concerts.

While the idea of a music academy has existed for years, it was pushed to the fore around two years ago when a report noted the district might have to close a school — KSS was high on that list — to compensate for declining enrolment. The music program has since been heralded as the school’s saving grace.

Stewart said an academy would capitalize on the award-winning reputations of the KSS and Ballenas music programs and while it will specialize in jazz it is hoped over time to expand and include rock as well as music composition and technology.

It would operate after school during the school year and for a two week intensive program during the summer offering workshops, master classes advanced theory classes and guided opportunities for students to perform together to enhance their musical education.

“We could have students play in the community as part of their work experience,” stated Stewart who added local businesses have indicated they will provide additional opportunities and venues in the community for academy group performances.

He said the Seajazz summer program will be part of the academy.

Seajazz has been running since 1998 and has both middle school and high school students from around Oceanside learning important performance skills.

Stewart told the board there is significant demand for advanced music teaching which currently cannot be accommodated within the existing programs.

Enrollment in the academy would include existing music program students who want a focused music program in conjunction with their academic studies but it would also be offered to out of district students and international students.

It would cost an estimated $1,500 per year per student and Stewart admitted that grants and scholarships would be needed so the program would be accessible to all students.

About $5,000 would be needed to get the academy started with about 20 students for the first year and in subsequent years enrollment will be increased.

Stewart said the academy will eventually generate additional revenue for the school district.

“It should be self supporting by year three,” admitted Stewart.

The second year would add chamber music studies and a brass ensemble to be offered at both high schools.

“We would approach Rick Robson at Ballenas and ask him to do the program, he stated and added, “I know he is interested and will be excited to be involved in it because we will be sharing our resources and that is beneficial for schools and students.”

Year three would add vocal studies, year four would add guitar with a school of rock, and year five would involve a high calibre wind symphony.

Stewart said it will promote cultural tourism and economic stimulation to the region through programs, festivals, displays and world-class concerts.

When there was talk of KSS being closed as a budget saving measure for the school district, Stewart said the academy plan would be one monetary solution because if they can attract students from outside of the district it will increase the utilization of school capacity and will eventually generate revenue.

He said they have looked at models of other music academies in Canada and England in shaping the plan and believe they have aligned it with the goals of 21st century learning.

He added that next year they will go to China to attract students from outside the district and he said there is no school marketing outside of their district right now.

“We have a successful track record already and that will help with our marketing.  Other districts have a similar program but not many…this is rare,” he agreed.

School trustees like what they heard and a music academy is one of the planks on which the new board was elected.

Board Chair Lynette Kershaw said she likes the slow phased in approach of the academy and she thinks it will be successful and there is a good chance it will come to fruition.

Superintendent Jim Ansell suggested ways to move the idea efficiently but properly through the system so that it can begin in September.

The public will be consulted after some further meetings of school officials and Ansell said they could have a proposal for the board to vote on in April.