Visual and Performing Arts

Instrumental Music Programs – Is Your Child Missing Out?

Instrumental Music Programs: No Students Participating.

Last year, I was dumbfounded to learn students at my daughters’ school were unable to participate in the 2015 SFUSD Music Festival. Upon asking other parents across the district what their experiences were, I discovered communication with families around VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) programs to be severely lacking. This was confirmed by parents who who filled out my district wide elementary music program survey. And was further confirmed when I saw a report showing district-wide participation in the Music Festival — like Jean Parker, there were many schools with NO STUDENTS PARTICIPATING in the festival.
Since last year, we have been grateful for the many improvements put in place at our school, namely all students were provided access to music instruments and we got a new teacher who is great at developing relationships with students. Nonetheless, there are still major problems with communicating VAPA program expectations and requirements with students and families. I can only deduce that this is larger than a “teacher issue” and remains a systemic problem that needs to be addressed.
Based on outstanding questions from a list of concerns I sent to the district VAPA department in January of LAST YEAR (2015!). I urge you to ask the following questions at your schools, among parents you know, and in PTA and SSC meetings:

Instrumental Music Programs: CA Ed Code requires families be informed about learning expectations and student progress in meeting them.

  • What are students expected to KNOW and BE ABLE to do each semester?
  • What are students expected to do at home?
  • What they are expected to bring to music class each day?
  • Have you received a letter from your child’s teacher and a “parent packet” outlining program goals, expectations and calendars of events?
  • Do families know how to rent musical equipment? Do they know how to receive instrumental loans from the school if needed?
  • How are students and families informed of how students are doing in meeting learning expectations?
  • Is this information translated into Spanish and Chinese?

Instrumental Music Programs: The district states that communication with families is a top priority.

  • Do you know how to contact your child’s music teacher if you have questions or concerns about the class?
  • Do you receive regular updates on your child’s progress?
  • Do you know about events such as the Spring Music Festival and requirements for participation?
  • Did you know there was a district VAPA website? (It’s here:
  • Do you receive regular communication directly from your child’s teacher/school about the music program at your child’s school?
As a parent, I feel frustrated that I have had to bring these very basic concerns to the attention of the VAPA department. I know they are understaffed and working hard. Nonetheless, parents should not have to wait a year to be informed about what their children are learning in class. I am especially concerned that if I had not reached out, Jean Parker students might have missed out on opportunities to be recognized for their talent because they were not properly prepared or informed. (They have already been left out for several years!)
I am sharing this information now because I want to ensure other schools are also informed. Specifically, I want to ensure all kids and families in our district have information about the music program in general, and understand requirements for participation in the SFUSD Music Festival.
I will be following up to file a complaint with the SFUSD Office of Family Voice and will also begin sharing concerns in with other parents in my network including PAC, PEEFAAPAC, Coleman Advocates, PPS and PTA.
Please share this information with other families in your networks. If you have any questions or want to discuss VAPA programs at your school and SPECIFICALLY music programs, please write a  note to me in the comments or email me at ali AT and I am happy to share information I’ve gathered.

What kind of information are you receiving about music programs at your child’s school? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Instrumental Music Programs – Is Your Child Missing Out?

  1. Just posted this on Facebook Group SFUSD Parents for the Arts (PARTS) Feel free to join the group and leave your comments on the page as well. Your issues with VAPA ring true.

    Why would SFUSD hire another level of management – Executive Director for Creativity, and the Arts, Don Harris to deliver upon the promise of the Arts Education Master Plan now when it hasn’t in the last 10 years? With a budget of $12 million dollars a year, for the last 10 years, the Visual and Performing Arts organization has not delivered. Now SFUSD wants to float a $100 million dollar bond measure to support the arts? And raise an additional $200 plus million from angel sources. Where’s the transparency in this process?

    1. I can’t answer these questions. I think Equity and Access should be the primary job description of the VAPA Director, don’t you? It’s a hard sell when I know folks in other departments as SFUSD are doing a herculean effort leading programs on a skeleton crew. For example, the Math Team coordinated a three year effort to redesign math curriculum k-12 and provide supports for teachers and families via a website AND regularly go out to schools to meet with families. Check that out here. The Humanities Department (English and Social Studies) does a writing assessment that involves ALL 4th, 6th and 9th grade teachers in the district. They teach a writing style and then convene ALL teachers throughout the district at this grade level to assess student writing, and in the process teachers become a part of a larger professional learning community and the district can assess how well students are writing throughout the district. This is with NO EXTRA BUDGET. I’ve been working for TWO YEARS to just get basic info on what my kids are learning… nothing so far. 🙁

  2. At least in secondary schools, all teachers should be providing parents with a course syllabus and expectations for their class. That includes arts teachers. If parents do not meet with the arts teachers at an open house the principal should be able to provide them with a syllabus. That much should also be expected of elementary schools. That’s why adhering to the California Visual and Performing Arts Framework is important. As a district we are a long way from doing that, but at least providing a syllabus would be moving in the right direction. As a parent you could then compare it to what other schools are offering.

    1. I agree 100%! At the elementary level, I’ve simply been asking: “What are the 2-3 songs my child is supposed to learn in this program? What are the basic requirements to participate in the Music Festival?” I HAVE BEEN WAITING OVER A YEAR… and the VAPA office has STILL not provided this. It’s truly unacceptable. I taught BEFORE we had standards, and even when teachers teach their own content, we have always been expected to set educational outcomes, assess student learning and communicate this to families.

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