You Can’t Even Give Music Education Away for Free: PS24 in The Bronx

Okay, I hear you in advance: it’s one single example. But let’s look a bit more deeply at it, shall we?

Take a good gander at this article from a local newspaper. Why would a principal turn a program away, when it’s being provided for free, is being embraced by other schools in the area, and the schools are facing historic budget cuts? Why is the principal allowed to do it? What is there to be done, if anything?

I asked another school principal about it, who shall remain nameless, for the NYCDOE is a tough place for those who choose to speak candidly:

You have to understand: they (NYCDOE) tell you what’s important and what’s not. Look at the School Progress Report: It’s impossible to miss. And believe me, the arts are not there. So, on one hand they tell everyone that the arts are important. At the same time the principals have been “empowered”–we’re the CEO’s. So, think about it a little. They set the policy that directs your decision-making. It’s ELA and math scores. And then when you make a decision that is subject to question, it’s all your fault–meaning the principal. It’s nice and convenient for everyone but the principal.

And what is there to do about it? Well, so far no comment from the school’s parent association. And, the NYCDOE appears to be unwilling to support the principal’s decision, nor overturn it.

Is it an aberration or a canary in the coal mine? If you look at the numbers regarding compliance with minimum standards for instruction in the arts, one would have to imagine that the canary was lost quite a while ago…

From the Riverdale Review – May 20, 2010 (reprinted with permission)


The Day the Music Died at P.S. 24


New funding for arts education is
typically music to any principal’s ears, but not to Donna Connelly’s at P.S.

The newly-appointed principal late last
year declined a grant that would have given the school a two-year music course.

The gift snub struck a sour chord with
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who selected the local institution for the money,
but only recently learned that the program was not in place.

“Unbeknownst to us, the principal
rejected it,” he said. “We were told that [Connelly] said there was no
educational value to it.”

Though the Department of Education
could not verify the details of the program declination, the agency took issue
with the principal’s assessment of the Music and Memory program. “We obviously
dispute that,” said Matthew Mittenthal, a DOE spokesman.

Four other Bronx schools benefit from
grant money, donated to the DOE by Mattel Inc. The grant endows teachers and
students with music materials–which include compact discs–enabling them to
spend the year learning and listening to important musical works. They hope to
extend funding to those four schools next year and to expand the program to
other institutions.

That a school would turn down such
money, Mittenfeld said, “That’s sort of shocking.”

Principal Connelly did not return a
call for comment.

Last year, Dinowitz singled out the
school for the grant after being asked by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to
recommend a school.  P.S. 24 received
word from the DOE that they had been selected for the Music and Memory program
by Assemblyman Dinowitz and State Senator Eric Schneiderman in a letter dated
November 23.

The school had to respond in early

Dinowitz, who yearly secures money to
fund music and arts programs at local schools, was disappointed that the school
turned the funding down. The course would have fine-tuned students’ listening
skills while they studied orchestral, vocal, choral and keyboard music written
by top composers.

“It sounds like it would have been a
nice thing,” he said.

The monetary value of the two-year
program is unclear, though it likely amounts in the thousands. While the DOE
could not provide an exact figure, the grant provides funding for a resource
binder for a teacher, compact discs for students and the opportunity for those
students to hear the music they studied performed live by the Riverside
Symphony Orchestra.

Dinowitz would have liked to keep the
money in his district and would have directed it elsewhere had he known that
the school would reject it.

“Now it’s probably too late,” he said.
“We lost it, essentially.”

It’s unusual for a school to turn down
money for music programs, although, Dinowitz said, it happened once before when
he allocated money to the Bronx Arts Ensemble to buy instruments for P.S. 95.
The principal rejected funding because at the time the school didn’t have a
music teacher.

But other than that, grants are
welcomed. Dinowitz said he recently watched students perform, using instruments
he funded, at the AmPark school. “They’re faces were just beaming,” he said.
“They really love this. This really excites kids.”

The P.S. 24 parents’ association did
not return a call for comment.

4 responses to “You Can’t Even Give Music Education Away for Free: PS24 in The Bronx”

  1. There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I have tired head just reading it. I can only speak to music education (as opposed to arts in general) but I feel it’s ‘our own fault’ in many ways that since the beginning we have been ‘giving it away’ to public schools to the detriment of our entire profession. Here is a little blog I wrote about this very issue titled ‘2 Simple Ideas for the Profession of Music Education’:

  2. I am curious, did this Donna Connelly also used to be principle of a private school in Huntington Beach, CA, called Claremont??? If someone could find this information out it would be greatly appreciated!! I attended Claremont and was exposed to MANY things from Staff that was inappropriate and illegal. Now that I am grown and have my own kids, I think she needs to be found and confronted!!!
    Claremont..which cost my father 6K a year for me to attend, closed down VERY UBRUPTLY in 97 or 98, a year or so after I graduated, and Donna filed bankruptcy, running off with parents tuition money. If this is the same Donna Connelly I am not surprised she would turn down a music class…we didnt have one at Claremont either.
    Thank you!!! Please let me know if this is the same person!!

  3. the riverdale review is a publication of very low journalistic standards that is out of touch with the community it purports to serve. Donna Connelly is a superb principal with high educational standards who turned down the music “grant” because it was bogus. the program she declined to participate in is far inferior to the music program already in place at our school. what she turned down was nothing more than a series of cds, which presented a music appreciation program of a very rudimentary, unsophisticated nature, basically a slapped together moneymaker for its producers, and sold to public school programs, because no one else would buy it. it would have given teachers a lot of extra work outside the classroom, while actually degrading the music instruction already in place. we the parents raise a large amount of money each year that goes to support the arts programs at PS 24, so we know this was a good decision on her part and we are not at all mad at it. the story was manufactured by a curmudgeon named andrew wolf who publishes the review, and who considers the ps 24 parent association to be his political enemy, for some reason we can’t quite fathom….!

  4. Fast forward 2 years. Donna Connelly fired two music teachers at PS 24 thus depriving it of not only music education funded by DoE but also two grants the school has been enjoying for ages, but which required that the school had a viable music program in place.