San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 24th, 2010
San Marcos CISD takes steps to start orchestra


Stephanie Ames Asbell of Texas State, right, speaks with San Marcos CISD trustees about the university’s orchestral strings program for high school students. On the left is Trustee Judy Allen, while Trustee John Crowley is the center. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

San Marcos CISD students in grades two through 12 will have opportunities this year to join two orchestral programs as the school district aims to implement its own orchestra program in the near future.

Texas State and the San Marcos Artist Retention and Training (SMART) Orchestra will sponsor the programs. The school district could launch its own orchestra as soon as the 2011-12 school year.

Texas State’s String Project, which went dormant after World War II, has been revived. It will offer, for students in grades two through five, two 45-minute classes on Monday afternoons and 30-minute lessons during the week beginning on Sept. 13. Texas State string education majors will teach the classes and private lessons.

“String education students will be gaining teaching experience on the job under the supervision of string faculty,” said Texas State’s Stephanie Ames Asbell. “Our faculty will be supervising them every step of the way and making sure they do a fantastic job for these students.”

Asbell said students may participate in the program for a fee of $100 per semester or $200 for the entire year, which, she said, averages out to $4 per hour of instruction.

“I think that’s quite a bargain for students, and we hope we’ll have a huge turnout,” Asbell said.

Registration started last week at the the Back-to-School Nights on all six elementary school campuses. Registration will continue through Sept. 13. Registration forms are available online at

“There have been many instances in which a string project starting has led to the formation of a public school orchestra program,” Asbell said. “I think, given the drive and the focus of the community on this effort, the time is absolutely right, and we’re so thrilled to be part of it.”

Classes will take place at the Texas State School of Music, at the intersection of Sessom Drive and North LBJ Drive. Classes meet for 12 weeks. At the end of each semester, students will present a public concert.

San Marcos CISD board trustees on Monday night unanimously approved an exemption to the district’s facility use policy to offer free practice space at San Marcos High School to the SMART Orchestra. Trustee David Castillo was absent. The SMART Orchestra needs the space for three and a half hours per week in the evening. The district customarily charges a $200 refundable deposit and $10 per hour for such usage.

The SMART Orchestra, led by Christopher Hanson, included 30 members of which about 20 were San Marcos CISD students. Among the San Marcos CISD students were fifth graders, middle school and high school students. One of the stated goals of the SMART Orchestra is to aid in the establishment of a middle school and a high school orchestral program at the San Marcos CISD. Another goal of the program is to establish an “orchestral network” for the city of San Marcos, which would involve the orchestral programs of San Marcos CISD, Texas State and the Smart Orchestra collaborating to expand string education in surrounding areas.

“There is an annual fee of $40 to be a part of the SMART Orchestra, but if a student cannot afford that, they find ways — through scholarships, et cetera — to make sure that any student is able to participate,” said San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer. “If a student cannot afford an instrument, they work with them to help them find a way that they can have an instrument.”

Shafer said SMART Orchestra administrators agreed to help San Marcos High School band director Damon Knight develop an implementation plan for the creation of school district-funded orchestras.

Knight presented a proposal to trustees Monday last week calling for two middle school orchestras for grades 6-8 and one high school orchestra for grades 9-12. Each orchestra is proposed to consist of about 50 students. Knight proposed that one new teacher be hired for the high school orchestra and another brought on-board to direct both middle school orchestras.

“I see this as a way to feed into our plan to have an orchestra in the future, so I think that it would be good from that perspective,” said San Marcos CISD Trustee Judy Allen.

Trustee John Crowley echoed Allen’s sentiment, and Trustee David Chiu said he was prepared to offer a long, eloquent justification for offering district space at no charge, though he refrained from doing so because none of his colleagues expressed opposition to the notion.

“I was going to pull a Jimmy Stewart — Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so I’m glad everybody … ,” Chiu said.

In June, the school district estimated a cost of $175,000-$200,000 to create an orchestra for grades 7-12. That cost estimate included $100,000 for two new positions, $50,000-$75,000 for initial instrument costs and $25,000 for other budget items.

Knight estimated costs of $119,033.15 for Goodnight Middle School, $119,033.15 for Miller Middle School, $121,833.15 for San Marcos High School, $15,000 for 150 concert uniforms, and $100,000 for two new teachers, for a total cost of $474,899.45. Expenditures for instruments represent the highest costs, at $107,033.15 for each orchestra of 25 violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos, and five basses.

Chiu and Trustee Trustee Kathy Hansen favored phasing in orchestras, rather than implementing all of them at once. No trustees opposed the orchestra program or expressed skepticism at the idea. Hansen asked Knight to examine the feasibility of offering an orchestra program to sixth graders.

Knight and other district staff will develop an implementation plan for presentation to trustees at their meeting next month or soon afterwards, said Hanson.

“We also appreciate the fact that you are considering a future of fine arts in SMCISD tonight,” SMART Orchestra representative Shannon Fitzpatrick said to the trustees. “As you know, this isn’t the wish of just a few isolated parents, this has a broad base of support in the community — and of course in the university as well. When new families come to San Marcos, a lot of families are looking to what this school district has to offer. And when they see that the performing arts here works in concert — pardon — with Texas State, that’s a huge statement as to what this district is about and what we can offer our students.”

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24 thoughts on “San Marcos CISD takes steps to start orchestra

  1. Wonderful news. I have to mention Deanna Badgett’s crucial role in providing the Suzuki violin lessons throughout the years to many of the students who will now participate in the high school program. Bravo to all involved!

  2. Where does it stop? Knights estimates are nearly triple the June cost estimates, and this is “wonderful news”? Rather than inevitably raising my already-huge property taxes (which are now higher than my principle and interest) to pay for this, how about off-setting some of the cost by doing away with stuff like the school districts participation in the “Bus Olympics” (of all things….) Does anyone know how much that cost the taxpayers? I’ve had to tighten my belt — when will SMCISD ever?
    And the districts “unanimous decision” to waive building-use fees for this galls me. This district is absolutely unsupportive of district families needing to use facilities on a regular basis, unless they “know someone” or are able to spend upwards of $500 to gain 501c3 IRS status.

  3. I don’t remember the details, but sometime last Spring the district proudly touted their winning team of bus drivers for their participation in some regional event called “Bus Olympics”. The name stuck with me as another example of the waste in this district in the name of “educating the children”. It may be archived in the Record or with SMCISD, or may be buried now, as this article is…..

  4. Thanks for the info Cathy. Have you heard about the multimillion dollar campus the board has discussed building? Rumor around town is that it’s around 4-5 million dollars and it will house the new alternative high school campus i.e drop outs, teen parents, etc. Etc.

  5. The district cannot (refuses to) fully staff the band program we have now. Directors are keeping that program together with spit and duct tape, not to mention the instruments.

    We have one art teacher for 5 elementary schools.
    We have no Grants Coordinator. All teachers and departments have to produce their own grant applications, so many opportunities are lost because nobody has the time to research and write the applications for ‘free money’.

    We have 2 daycare centers, one at the old high school and one at Pride, for the 60 average babies a year born to students in the district. (the average has not changed in over ten years- 61 babies a year!!!)
    And good luck to any teacher in the district who would like free daycare for their baby, it’s not available.

    How many football, basketball, baseball coaches are there? I can’t remember, but it’s a ridiculous number.
    I appreciate the efforts of these good people who are trying to bring more arts into our schools. But we need to take care of what we have, and get rid of what we don’t need first.

  6. Well, Sean. You’ve done it again, my boy. Look what you have started. Couldn’t we all just have read the “Statesman” and the “Record” and watched some NASCAR and taken another nap? You stir people up like that, and they go asking a lot of questions that are not necessarily their business.

  7. Michael–just saw your note, above. I thought we had HANDLED the dropout and teen parent problems. No? Well, drop me in boiling fat and call me a cracklin’! I’ve SEEN all the stories! Why, there is no telling WHAT all we have done–or at least, SMCISD has done FOR us.

  8. 150 students at $475,000 = $3100+ per kid. Or each can pay their own way at $4 a lesson starting right now, and not burden taxpayers with this cost too.
    Somebody needs to pull a Steve Harvey and demand transparency and accountability (and even throw in a little common sense) from this school board.

  9. Cathy, transparency is the last thing these guys want. I ran for school board last year, and one of my “planks” was to get the board meetings televised like Council and P&Z meetings.
    I was very unsuccessful in my efforts…

  10. Cathy- If you can narrow some of your concerns down, you can submit an Open Record Request form. Get the form at SMCISD website. Hit “DEPARTMENT” tab, then “PUBLIC INFORMATION”. Scroll down; you can read about Texas Public Record Act. Keep scrolling down to “MEDIA FILES” You will find the Open Record Request form. Good luck!

  11. I can support the district when they say they are working to lower the drop out rate, decrease instances of teen pregnancy, and raise the standard of education that our students are receiving…but when the board watches a presentation that includes a million dollar facility for underperforming students I just can’t stay quiet any longer! If they decide as a board that they want to spend a couple million dollars on students without voter approval I would at least hope it be to address some of the issues Chris has stated. Or even better they would agree to build a facility attached to the high school that addressed Career and technical education. Anyone willing to run against David Castillo, i’ve been told he ran for a seat because he had a personal vendetta against the school district and now I never see him at the meetings. It’s about time we had parents, community members, business owners, and tax payers on the board instead of politicians – in the long run it screws both the students and the tax payers!

  12. David Castillo was fired as a coach from the high school years ago, under some pretty scandalous circumstances.
    It amazes me that he could be elected to the school board, but I am easily amazed by the way this town works…

  13. If you build it they will come, and why not? These little girls get free childcare, education grants, food stamps, and (or so they think) permanent ties to that cute baby-daddy. No incentive to not have a kid in high school. So what’s a measly few million to build a shiny new school — there’s plenty of money to go around. And let’s have bus olympics and redundant “academies” and 20 high school coaches and an orchestra and a top-heavy administration, because, you know, it’s all free money. thumpthump All smoke and mirrors, because if you scratch the surface at SMHS, you’d be shocked at how liitle educating is truly going on, and how much time is wasted.
    I’m so glad mine are out of there….
    And I know my b*tchin won’t change anything, because so few care, and fewer pay attention.

  14. Like I said, anyone willing to run against David?

    If someone is willing please take these things into considering:

    SMCISD has a pathetic voter turnout rate even though I pay more tax to SMCISD then I do to CoSM and Hays County. Look at Peter Baens failed reelection attempt, he was once of the true voices of reason, but alas another former employee with a vendetta rallied more troops.

    Someone please take the time to look at the graduating class of 2010 – a district employee recently touted that this was their largest graduating class in the history of SMCISD…sadly I learned that this statistic is infact true when you factor in the nearly 50 Phoenix graduates and the original 330somethint from the high school. (1 in 4 SMHS graduates attended the alternative higg school)

    A few years ago we passed these bonds to rebuild our school district and we are just recently received recognized status for our educational efforts – 6 years seems to be a pretty long time if the thing that was holding us back was the facilities.

    The board recently approved preliminary plans to move SMHS to an academy model, while I do support the principals reasoning behind this…wasn’t the 52 million dollar campus built to general learning specifications, also this Academy model requires 500,000 dollars to fund new coordinators and instructors, but SMHS will not be offering any new classes, hmm?

    The superintendent recently did away with TxState Max Warshower’s (sorry if I spelled the name wrong, Max) nationally/globally known math program.

    Numerous factually and staff have left to higher paying positions in other districts.

    Someone please talk to the students of SMCISD and the high school, more often then not they know what’s going on in the district before the current board does…

    And now they are wanting to spend money on facilities for central administration and under performing students. SMCISD please raise the bar before giving the people who can’t rise to the occasion a ‘better’ facility. We should be lowering those numbers instead of expanding services…

  15. Cathy I feel like it’s about time some did a ‘Steve Harvey’ relating to SMCISD, I know we are not the only ones who believe this…it’s just these days it’s ‘taboo’ to speak against those ‘subpopulations’ because it ‘isn’t their fault…’

  16. Nothing’s more fun than being politically incorrect, ‘longs your skin is thick enough……. Somebody please take over for Steve Harvey over at the other board — he’s needed here…………..
    Chris, I’m sorry, I don’t remember the details of your school board run. What happened — and how ’bout another go?

  17. Warschauer out? For sure? I wrote the original Legislative appropriations Request for Support for the MathPath–the pioneering effort. Max wowed the Board of Regents,m the Higher Ed. Coordinating Board, and the Lege to get a startup, and has won awards and grown and turned out wonderful mathematicians. Arguably his own son is and will be the best native mathematician his age in Texas. He and Hiroko are, it seems, like Ms. Badgett, the “strings” lady, who has been waiting in the wings so long, are as good as a place like ours can afford. Max can be a bit frenetic or touchy, maybe a bit nonconventional, but the long-range impact of his program is OFF the tarmac, and at full throttle. I speak in awestruck amazement. But then we did also ditch a beta-testing relative of SKYPE which carried classes among Gary, SMCISD, and TXState–were were doing R&D for a remote electronic classroom in each location; high school teachers, college teachers, and trades instructors, where proper,had tiered access behind full-credit general education courses and AP’s such as college algebra. Most costs were borne by Centurytel, whichdesigned the system alongside Univ. “Teachers and Techies.” My, how things do change!

    And within the narrow and confining oversight of TEA, the Guv, the Schoolbook people with a decent TAKS Score the Holy Grail, teachers must contort themselves outside the classroom and kick in on their own supplies. Not many bold ideas–certainly none not “as prescribed within the guidelnes for eligibility and funding. It is easier to justify and get support for under-qualified, underachieving, or delinquent children than to do anything else. No boldness, please.

  18. Chris and Michael Potter- Don’t wait for someone else to do the job…you are both as capable as the next person!

    I noticed that Mr. Harvey first got all the vague complaints down to specific questions to be addressed. You can then contact the individual board members to have a face-to-face. E-mails are OK, but easily dismissed w/contrite answer.

    Then you can sign -up to speak at school board and relay what you learned from each individual member. They might get squirmy once they realized that they are being held accountable for their words, but that’s what you want.
    (Pack behavior is an interesting phenomenon.)

    I noticed that Mr. Harvey’s success was due to careful documentation of conversations and news briefs and he had researched better ways to do things. Most important he did not allow himself to be brushed off. It will take hard work and “thick skin” because their job is to convince you that you are wrong.

  19. Mr. Potter you hit the nail on the head. What was voter turnout in the last SMCISD election? Without checking I’m betting less than 10%. The vast majority of your tax dolars go there, yet no one cares. Two thirds om my tax bill is school taxes, should be about the same for everyone else, yet no one cares. Educate the voters, get them to the polls, things will change.

  20. Well, in the May 2010 election, there where 218 votes cast in the Baen-Crowley race (and a 12 vote difference between them). The total county-wide turnout was 7.51%, but that is factoring in all the county elections.

    Most of my numbers cover the City limits only, but they put the number of registered voters in the City limits at roughly 28,000.

  21. Getting back to the orchestra, this will be money well-spent, if you ask me. There’s no excuse for a community this size, and one that is home to a major university, not to have an orchestra. This will also give kids a chance to pursue college music scholarships, and many universities offer full-tuition scholarships to worthy kids. These are the kind of opportunities our school district should be offering.

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