Issaquah Schools Foundation set to tune up band

November 7, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

When the Skyline High School Orchestra started this year it was short nine cellos. The arsenal for Issaquah Middle School band for years included a baritone saxophone from 1925. Instead of being in a museum, it was played until its medal decayed beyond the point of repair.

“They’re all over the district of course — instruments that have either been around a long time or have seen rough decades. It’s been an ongoing problem for a long time,” said Doug Longman who teachers orchestra at both Skyline and Issaquah high schools. “We are not even providing all the instruments that kids are playing.”

Larger instruments like cellos, tubas and bass clarinets are hard for students to carry back and forth from home, where they practice, to school, where they take band or orchestra. They’re also expensive to rent, if they can be rented at all.

To help students in their musical endeavor, the ideal solution is for those larger instruments to be provided in class. But that is easier said than done.

“The life of the tuba or the bari sax is not an easy one,” said Longman. “And it’s getting more expensive to fix them.”

Longman and music departments in middle schools and high schools across the district are about to get a long overdue boost.

The Issaquah Schools Foundation is launching a $100,000 per year dedicated fine arts fund for local secondary schools, through which various programs will come up for funding on a three year cycle.

“I think in each department — whether its fine arts, or music or drama – everybody has a story about how this will benefit their program,” said the foundation’s Executive Director, Robin Callahan. “The arts cannot be overlooked. They are important for student achievement and success in school.”

The district is still hammering out some of the details and compiling a list of different needs. Those needs, said Jerry Miller, director of instruction support curriculum, include everything from a new theater lighting system to $500 to fix a kiln.

One thing that is for sure though, is that instruments will be in the first round of funding, which is set to happen in May.

Repairing and replacing old, large instruments has been an issue for the district for at least the last 13 years that Miller has worked here, he said.

“We had this big old Tuba that was held together with duct tape, chimes held together with a coat hanger,” said Miller. “People have been making due and making due.”

So last spring he worked with the music departments to put together a request for a $50,000 grant from foundation.

“They realized that $50,000 once would just be a band aid,” said Miller about the foundation deciding to turn that one-time grant into an annual donation. “We were just blown away. It’s typical of the foundation – they see a need and they really put themselves behind it. This was just beyond our wildest dreams that we could meet the needs of band and all the other arts as well.”

The original request, explained Callahan, prompted a lot of discussion among the foundation’s committee and board members about the desire to not just support band and orchestra but to support all arts in schools, like vocal, drama, fine and visual arts.

“If we wanted to make it meaningful, then it needed to be larger than $50,000 a year,” she said. “We believe it will have a large impact because the arts are so used to doing quite a bit with not so much. They’ve been making their dollar stretch for so many years.”

The funding for this endeavor and other programs that the foundation pays for, like after school homework labs, comes from the organizations two annual fundraisers, one of which is going on right now.

The “All In For Kids” campaign began in August and concludes next week when 300 high school students will set out on a calling campaign to raise their goal of $330,000. Phones will ring Nov. 13 and 15.

Families that have already donated will be taken off the call list.

To learn more about the Issaquah Schools Foundation and the fund-raising campaign, visit or call 425-391-8557.

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