Collage of students performing

A Message from BARR’s Founder & Executive Director

Music brings me joy and inspiration. I received my Bachelors in Music Education and I performed in the community for years. One of my passions is to attend live music events. The last show I saw before the pandemic was an amazing jazz and piano concert.

I love all types of music, but this past year I have been drawn to jazz. Jazz improvisation allows the individual to compose music “on the spot” and create fresh melodies while staying true to the chords that are holding the song together. Great jazz players listen and truly know the melody. They find the beat, take it slow, make it their own, then swing it.

I have performed in many jazz groups, and it is both exhilarating and terrifying when the group looks to you for a jazz solo. There is no sheet music upon which to rely. Rather, you need to hear the theme and use your imagination. The creation not only feels vulnerable and personal, but you are well aware that your contribution needs to reflect your style and enhance the piece as a whole.

When the pandemic hit, schools could no longer rely on playing from sheet music. Every school and every educator had to play jazz. They needed to stay secure in the melody and listen to each other to ensure improvisation did not turn into cacophony. Our schools developed a cadence anchored in the two pillars of relationships and data, allowing them to improvise and create their own music based on individual styles and needs. The schools learned from each other and not only created new strategies that served their students, they developed confidence in their ability to innovate and meet student needs.

Each school took the BARR melody of relationships and data, improvised to fit their local context, shared it with the BARR network, and continued to spur further creativity. Relationships are the chorus: staff to staff, staff to student/family, and student to student. 

Staff to Staff. In South Fort Myers, Florida, when face-to-face meetings were no longer possible among staff, the principal and BARR coordinator created individualized thank-you items for BARR team members and delivered them. A faculty meeting was dedicated to celebrating the successes of their data, students, and teachers.

Staff to Student/Family. This past semester, in West Valley, California, 143 ninth graders earned a 3.0 or higher. The BARR coordinator and counselor sent a personal email to each of these students, accompanied by an email to their families, congratulating them on their success.

Student to Student. At St Cloud Technical School in Minnesota, National Honor Society students sent a positive postcard to every ninth grader, encouraging them to keep doing their best. 

All our schools spent time this last year listening to each other, playing off each other, and using what they learned to make music together. When ideas are shared across the BARR network, staff and students benefit from coast to coast, across the country. The wave of disruption regarding school being traditionally delivered has been accompanied by another wave — melody sustaining improvisation.

I am often asked, “When we go back face-to-face, will we revert to the old way of delivering school?” Absolutely not. We have long known that the education system developed during the industrial revolution was not realizing the talent of so many of our young people. Educators relied on sheet music, because, as you hear from so many, “this is the way we have always done it.” What we learned this past year is that we do not have to rely on sheet music that someone else has written and played. We can play jazz, in addition to all the styles we are well versed in — and once you play jazz, it is always part of your repertoire.

I hope you are surrounding yourself with things that bring you joy as you continue to serve our communities in remarkable ways. 

My best,