OPS music program receives national recognition

Owensboro Public Schools’ reputation for having one of the best fine arts programs in the state recently got bolstered.

OPS has once again been honored with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from The NAMM Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education.

Now in its 25th year, the Best Communities for Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.

This is the fifth straight year OPS has received this distinction.

“It is a great recognition to have; it’s something we really pride ourselves on, because this is a national level recognition,” said Kara Smith, OPS’ fine arts coordinator. “I think that’s very special. To be able to say we’re one of five districts in the entire state to earn this distinction. And aside from the excitement of the recognition, the information that getting this distinction goes off of is really a testament to the investment and the importance music education has in our school district.

“We are very thankful for the level of support our music programs receive from our school board, our district as a whole and each building’s administrators. All of that is a huge factor in what goes into this recognition. It shows the importance that’s placed on music education in our school system because this distinction is given to schools or districts that make it so there aren’t barriers to kids to being able to have access to music education, and it’s affordable across all of the schools in the district.”

Smith said the application process to be considered for the recognition is extensive. But she felt that benefited OPS, with the reach of the district’s programs throughout the system being uncommonly wide.

“They look to see if students at all schools in all grades have access to high-quality programs, if they are offered opportunities to perform in their schools and in the community, questions about level of support received from your district and schools for the music programs to be successful,” Smith said. “It’s a very detailed process, and it needs to be, because that is how the NAMM organization is able to ensure the correct people are getting the distinction.

“It goes all the way up to the high school programs, what programs do high school students have access to, opportunities to perform in school or in the community, and it asks about special programs we offer, like lessons and summer camp. The organization does a great job of getting that picture of your total program. So in our case, it’s great to be able to showcase everything that we do and offer on that application, because we understand how unique and special it is to offer all of the things that we do.”

Smith said the recognition is testament to the commitment the district made about 25 to 30 years ago to make students having access to the arts a priority.

“Our district made a commitment to wanting to invest in the arts programs for the benefit of our students and try to provide as many arts experiences and make sure we have equitable experiences across the district for all kids,” she said. “And the benefits that we’ve seen doing that in our district and the way it impacts kids and the positive effect it has on their lives is why we keep reaching for having the highest-quality programs we possibly can.”

OPS students are introduced to music education in kindergarten, and programs are expanding in the elementary schools. OPS has partnered with Owensboro Dance Theatre to offer dance classes beginning as young as students in the third grade.

There are also theater programs. Estes Elementary’s theater program is performing a musical with a full cast.

“We want to make sure that all of the experiences that our kids are getting in the arts across the board are comparable to an experiences they would have in a place larger than Owensboro,” Smith said. “You hear things about what the larger schools in Lexington and Louisville have to offer, and it’s important to us to make sure our students are getting those larger community experiences right here in Owensboro.

“Luckily our community as a whole is a very arts friendly county and city, with so much going on in the community with that. I feel like it’s a a mindset for our whole area, and that helps us be successful.”

Smith said the success of the programs wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of the district’s teachers.

“A lot of it really goes back to our teachers and the day to day work that they do making sure our students are the best that they can be,” she said. “The teachers are ultimately the ones taking the kids down the path.

“We’re really appreciative of that as a district.”