Reflection 14  

         Impacts of the Studio to Schools Learning Community 

                                         on the

                    Sunriver/La Pine Middle School Project

When the Sunriver Music Festival/La Pine Middle School leaders applied for the Oregon Community Foundation Studio to Schools project, their dream was to restore band to La Pine Middle School.  In initial meetings, OCF leaders encouraged local S2S committee members to think broadly – to restore band but also to think about and try other creative arts ideas.

                        A Different Kind of Grant – Innovation Works!

Where to begin?  The team started with band.  Stymied by no band teacher applicants, music teacher Michael Chavarin devoted his prep period and countless hours outside the school day to use grant resources to create a new band elective. 

Discussions with students and staff identified their desire to expand art class offerings and to add options for guitar, dance and drama.  Schedule limitations precluded adding additional electives to the school day so a series of popular after school guitar, drama and photography clubs were created. A motivated local dance instructor volunteered to work with PE staff to add a dance unit to their curriculum.

A conversation with a high school colleague led to the restoration of an annual musical production. A desire to amp up interest and enrollment in 6thgrade band inspired the addition of a ukulele unit in the upper grade music elementary curriculum.

The innovative nature of the Studio to Schools grant powerfully affected the mindset and the culture of LPMS.  As in many schools, but especially in a struggling Title I school, staff was accustomed to monitoring their ideas and requests to fit within a perpetually lean and predefined framework.  The OCF invitation to think beyond our original proposal gave us license and the resources to think about and try new things in new ways — to risk and to pursue meaningful change.

Powerful Aspects of the Studio Experience

As part of the unique innovative structure of the S2S grant, the opportunities to attend Studio Rendezvous gatherings, participate in topical webinars, visit other Studio projects and communities (very memorable and inspiring), and form relationships with other Studio participants with whom we share ideas and inspiration have been very worthwhile.  As we have shared our successes and challenges and described the shapes of our various programs, it is remarkable how, coming from such different projects, we have found so much in common!

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the OCF S2S grant has been the development of the Studio to School Principles.  At the beginning, thinking about the best way to grow our program, our team cast about for practical standards of quality against which to evaluate the relative value of our ideas.

Now they exist!  

Most Powerful Learning Community Impact – 

  The S2S Sunriver/La Pine Committee

In addition to the innovative approach of the S2S Grant structure, Sunriver/La Pine Project members agree that the persistence of our local Studio Committee, guided by the ongoing direction and support from OCF Studio Project leaders, has been a powerful and pivotal force in our project’s success.   We decided that beyond the formal end of the grant this group should continue to support the work going forward, re-tasked as a cultural arts advisory committee.  

Committee Membership Makeup

Five years ago Pam Beezley, Sunriver Music Festival Director, and Jim Boen, La Pine Middle School Principal and South County Director, recognized a critical need to further develop cultural arts opportunities in the school community of La Pine.  When their proposal was accepted by OCF, they set about identifying a steering committee of individuals prepared to make a long term, five- year commitment to its success.  That committee has remained intact. Though Jim Boen’s assistant principal, Robi Phinney, became LPMS Principal the second year, Jim has remained an ex-officio part of the group, assisting from his current position as Bend-La Pine Schools Assistant Superintent, with many project tasks and initiatives.  Pam serves as Studio Project Lead.

Michael Chavarin, Studio Staff Representative, as LPMS and LPHS music teacher ensures great continuity of music program planning and delivery from the middle through the high school years.  Stefanie Bright, Studio Parent Representative, is a dedicated and involved parent and community business leader with great resources and connections to the La Pine community.  Gayle Vidal, retired Bend-LaPine South County Principal, as Studio Project Manager oversees communications and timelines. 

Studio committee members brainstormed content ideas for this post at a March 15thregularly scheduled meeting.   A draft was edited then approved by all.

Committee Strengths

The Sunriver/La Pine Studio Committee meets monthly or bi-monthly to guide the work of the project. The variety and pace of activities within both organizations, Sunriver Music Festival and La Pine Middle School, is intense.  Committing to regular meetings enables us to prioritize Studio goals and activities, plan and communicate, hold ourselves accountable, keep the work alive, coordinated and moving forward, and helps with pacing to meet timelines.

A particular strength is each member’s commitment to the mission of the Studio project.  We are united in a common goal – reestablishing cultural arts at LPMS.  That mission keeps everyone on course as we balance pressure from other responsibilities. When engaging a problem our different points of view help us find positive solutions.  Our mutual respect creates a safe space for brainstorming next steps and solving difficult problems.

Within the group we are all sometimes leaders and sometimes followers.   Each of us brings connections with a wider group of interested parties and individuals upon whom we rely for support.  We find our meetings and tasks energizing. We are proud of the accomplishments of the LPMS students and staff.

Most Challenging Aspects of the Project 

            Scheduling and Staffing

The two most difficult challenges for the Sunriver/La Pine S2S project have been scheduling and staffing.  La Pine administrators worked diligently over multiple years to identify and develop highly qualified staff to teach music and art electives.   

As a small school in a rural area LPMS had no applicants to teach a single period band class.  That problem was solved when the existing music teacher agreed to start a beginning band class during his contracted prep period. Several years later, as band class student enrollment grew, the principal was able to adjust staffing to restore that staff member’s prep period and to support both beginning and advanced band classes.

Developing quality art instruction was advanced when the principal was able to fill a staff opening with someone highly qualified in multiple subjects, one of which was art. Into the future, to continue to incorporate creative arts learning opportunities into the curriculum, she will continue to plan for additional training of existing staff in the creative arts and for hiring new staff with multiple certifications, in academics and creative arts.

Scheduling challenges arise in small schools that share specialized staff with other schools. LPMS and LPHS must build schedules to accommodate shared multiple staff and to provide students viable opportunities to take required subjects at each level.  Further, in underperforming schools, remediation and support classes must be offered to help academically challenged students meet state academic performance and graduation expectations.  All of this work must be done within a defined district budgeted amount. Any attempt to make a staffing or elective change in one school often requires adjustment and accommodation in the other.  Realizing the addition of band and art opportunities in LPMS has been possible, in part, because of close, year-by-year La Pine middle/high administrative and staff flexibility and accommodation.