Re: IDEA Schools-Band program
Posted by Danger, Will Robinson on 2/4/2021, 1:57 pm, in reply to "IDEA Schools-Band program"
I started a band program at a similar charter school. Based on my experience, and from talking with other band directors at charter school events, I would advise you to ask a LOT of questions and make sure you know what you're getting into. Every charter school is different. The common factor is they're all tight with money and don't have a clue about school music programs. |
-What's the budget? Don't accept any wishy-washy "just give us a list" answers. I was asked several times for lists of needs, and never saw anything purchased from any of those lists. Get a hard number. When do you have access to the budget? Can you spend some before the year starts to have instruments and equipment ready to go on day one? My principal asked me for a list of needs over the summer before we started. I spent a lot of time and effort (before I was on payroll) gathering quotes and putting together a list that was well over $100K (small high school, no marching band). I got two racks of terrible off-brand music stands. When I asked about budget money in September, I was literally laughed at ("Budget money? for BAND?") and told to find "something free online." The new budget year started October 1, and I found out I had $11K to spend. By the time I went through the byzantine purchasing process, I finally got some new instruments and sheet music in December. As they added programs in later years, they split my budget instead allocating additional funds for the new programs. 4 years later my budget was down to $3K. My band hall was built on the kindness of friends and other band directors, used instruments rescued from the scrap heap at other schools, Donors Choose, and my own personal wallet.
-What will the scheduling situation be? You didn't say if it's MS or HS. Make sure you can schedule kids where they need to be for beginner classes and advanced groups by ability. Watch out for catch-all classes with kids of all abilities and random instrumentation. Make sure you can have some input into the master schedule to make sure your top groups are not scheduled against singleton classes.
-What does the beginner track look like? If you're at a high school, is there a feeder program at the MS? Are kids allowed to start band in any grade level? Will beginners in later grades be in a separate class from experienced kids? I was more than once handed a beginner in my high school band and told to "differentiate instruction."
-Related to that, what classes will you be teaching? I was hired as a band director, but also taught guitar, choir, Music Appreciation, and AP theory at various points. Before they hired an orchestra teacher I had string students scheduled into my band. I would have rather spent time helping out at the middle school campus, but they felt it necessary to justify my position by filling up my schedule. Unless it was during my conference or lunch, going to the middle schools took an act of Congress.
-What are the facilities like? My "band hall" was also the stage in a gym-atorium setup. The only thing separating me from PE classes was a folding divider wall. Gym teachers like to pump up their music and basketballs are LOUD. Assemblies, parent meetings, any performance by dance, choir, or orchestra, all used my classroom space. By the time I left, I couldn't even perform on the "stage" because the band no longer fit. We set up on the gym floor instead.
-Be VERY clear on expectations. At my school, if I wanted to work school hours and have a mediocre (at best) band that did nothing more than a concert or maybe two during the year, that would have been just fine with my admin. Other directors in the school system did just that. I had to fight to be ALLOWED to compete at UIL. Every year I had to argue with the finance office to write a PO for all-region, because that was due before budgets opened for the year. Charter schools have a separate group called TCSAAL that handles competition, their band competitions are not anywhere close to what TMEA and UIL provide. If they expect you to compete, who is paying for contest fees and transportation? There were years I had to charge kids enough money to cover their entry and the bus so we could go to all-region auditions.
-What are they paying you? This should go hand in hand with the previous question. If you're on teacher pay scale, how does it compare with the nearby districts and your current job? Is there a stipend? Is the stipend in line with what you're expected to do? If you're anywhere close to retiring, remember this will factor into your last 5 years average for TRS.
There were some good things about that job. The kids, honestly, were great. It really felt like a private school in a lot of ways. The parents were involved. The campus administration was good (the "district" level not so much). If you're hoping to have anything like a traditional Texas band program, a charter school is probably not the place for it. If you want a low-key job, with minimal requirements on your time, that will pay accordingly, maybe that's for you. It might not be a bad job for someone who's already retired (like a small private school gig) except that it's a TRS gig. If you're willing to put in the time and effort to educate the school on how band works, maybe that's for you and in a few years you can have a great band. Maybe IDEA has figured it out and I'm behind the times (it's been a few years since I was in the charter system).
In case I wasn't clear, I'm glad I moved on.