Majestic Elementary saved by art, musicJan 27, 2020 11:58AM ● By Jet Burnham
Majestic Elementary has a bright future. (Photo courtesy Scott Burnham)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
A new kind of school
Majestic Elementary will not be closed. It will stay open, and beginning this fall, will be a magnet school with a music and arts emphasis curriculum.
“There are no other schools with this level of arts emphasis,” said Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. “We have really worked hard to increase the art options and exposure to various types of art in all of our elementary schools, but this will be the first time that we've concentrated resources and opportunities in one school like this.”
Community members are excited for the new school program, but ultimately, they are thrilled their school will not be closed. Majestic is located at the northeast corner of Jordan School District boundaries where it has suffered from low-enrollment for years.
“It's not being completely responsible with the taxpayers’ money if we leave a school with that few numbers open,” said Jordan District board of education member Jen Atwood.
However, the board wanted to find a way to save the school as much as the families did.
“It weighed very heavy on the board to close the school because we felt like not all avenues had been looked at,” Atwood said. They have spent the past year looking for solutions that would entice more students to enroll at Majestic instead of relocating the 340 students to nearby schools.
“More than anything, I wanted school to be a good experience for the students,” Atwood said. “I wanted them to be able to have the learning opportunities that other kids have. So, it was just really trying to find out the best way to do that.”
District officials collected input from parents, researched options and even traveled out of state to look for solutions that could save Majestic. The board reviewed various options for creating a magnet school with a science-based curriculum, an arts emphasis curriculum, an Individual Guided Education and an extended-day/after-school program.
Ultimately, the board chose the music and arts option.
“These kids do not have the opportunity to put their hands on instruments, to have that additional music lesson,” Atwood said. “That's why that option was more appealing.”
Prepared for change
Not knowing which option would be chosen, Majestic Principal Kathe Riding began preparing students and staff last year to incorporate elements of all the ideas into the curriculum. Students have regular experiences with art, science and computer skills during weekly rotations. An art specialist works with small groups, and a master teacher came out of retirement to “wow” students with enrichment science activities previously reserved for gifted students. Every other week, students attend band and choir classes.
“We thought we would try all of these things to see, in case one of these did come true, how this community of kids would accept it and if they were comfortable with it,” Riding said.
Kyla Asmar, a sixth grade teacher at Majestic, said the arts integration has been well received by her students.
“It’s one of their favorite parts of the week,” Asmar said. She believes art not only appeals to students’ desires to express themselves but that art provides a variety of ways to teach students with different learning styles.
Asmar recently completed an arts partnership program and plans to continue working for an arts endorsement that will help her integrate art into her classroom curriculum. District administrators will also provide arts training to staff and will hire arts specialists for the areas of emphasis, which could include any combination of visual arts, digital media arts, music (choir and band/orchestra), dance and theater.
Riding is thrilled with the proposed program.
“It's going to enrich their lives and give them greater experiences,” she said.
Student scores soar
Incorporating arts and science into the curriculum and working hard to convince the board to keep the school open, the efforts of Riding and her staff have already resulted in improved student performance. Utah State Board of Education’s school grading report for 2018–19 showed increased achievement scores in all subject areas for Majestic students, with the most significant changes in science, which rose from 28.7% proficiency to 41.7%.
Riding said Majestic’s EL program was previously rated “in critical need.” The most recent report shows the program is performing above district and state averages.
“We're seeing that everybody's responding favorably to what's happening here,” Riding said. “We're just thrilled.”
Students’ achievements and growth will be celebrated at an upcoming family night.
“We're going to have a showcase at our school to let the parents come and see what the kids are doing and the progress they've made,” Riding said.
They will also be celebrating that the school will stay open.
“We're on cloud nine for a few minutes, and then we have to get back to work,” Riding said.
Staff will begin training now to prepare for the new curriculum beginning this fall.
“We’ll prepare the staff so that they're able to do the things that we need to do to support the program,” Riding said.
While the goal is for the arts and music offerings to draw in more students to the school, community members want to preserve the close-knit culture they fought to defend at the many public hearings and board meetings where the school’s fate was discussed.
The board was sensitive to parent feedback as they discussed closing the school.
“The community loses their identity to a degree when a school is closed,” Godfrey said. “So, we wanted to be sure that with such a high stakes decision on the line, parents didn't have any obstacles to being able to make their case directly to the board.”
When the first public hearing was held at Riverton High School—on the opposite end of the district from Majestic—the district provided a bus.
“We understood that it would be very difficult for many parents from that community to get transportation in time to participate in the public hearing,” Godfrey said. “We provided a school bus that picked parents up and took a couple of different trips from Majestic to Riverton and back to give them a voice in that process.”
Atwood said while it was hard to see so many upset parents at the public hearings, she believes if they hadn’t shown up and voiced their opinions, they would not have had the same end result. Riding agrees the new program for Majestic was made possible because the threat of closure put a fire under parents and staff to work harder to prove their school deserved to remain open.
“I think it was a powerful combination of parent voices uniting in support of the school and the Board of Education being very open to the feedback they received,” Godfrey said. “They listened to the parents and are trying to offer something that benefits not only that community but anyone in the district who wants to be part of it.”
Riding said it was a good experience for Majestic parents to get involved in community issues.
“They were polite, but they spoke up,” she said. “It was hard for them to do that—they even had to do it with translators. But they were willing to speak their voice and to do the surveys.”
Parent feedback continues to shape board decisions. Many parents have expressed interest in an extended day or after-school program, which is still a possible solution for other West Jordan elementary schools.
“Our enrollment numbers throughout the schools in the West Jordan area are going down,” Atwood said. “We need to be able to help supplant whatever we can into those schools to bring those numbers up.”