The hills are alive with the sound of music.
At 7 a.m. Kimberly Gray rushes out her door. She’s 25 years old, slender, 5’ 7” tall, with light brown hair that touches her shoulders. Once she arrives at her destination, Starbucks, she orders a soy chai latte with easy ice. The barista calls out her name, she grabs the latte off the counter and dashes out the door and on to a day of unusual challenges.
Challenges have beset her since 2005, when she became band director at Paseo Hills Elementary School in Deer Valley. The Northern Arizona University graduate has struggled to maintain a music program in a small corner of the public education system. With the national focus on proficiency in basic skills, funding for the arts often falls short. Paseo Hills Elementary has little money for music—or for the people who teach it.
It is up to each school district in Arizona to allocate funds for music out of its general budget, according to Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction. But in the wake of criticism that arts are being ignored in public schools, the state is considering increasing arts funding. Horne says he will propose standardized testing of arts programs to the Arizona Legislature. Proposing a standardized test for a subject is the first step towards increasing funding. If the legislature approves the standardized testing, funding should follow, he says.
But future plans don’t affect the present problems that Kimberly Gray faces every day she teaches band at Paseo Hills Elementary School.
Paseo Hills Elementary School was built in 1998. It is a suburban school hidden in a housing development. The school’s simple grey cinder block and stucco design camouflage it with the surrounding houses. Paseo Hills enrolls just over 1,100 students. In 2005 it received the “Arizona A+ School of Excellence Award” and its teachers have been honored for their work. The school has met federal “No Child Left Behind” requirements every year since 2002.
When Kimberly Gray began teaching at the school, only 15 students enrolled in band. Now nearly 260 students take a band class with Gray. She is one of the youngest teachers at Paseo Hills Elementary, and earns about $33,000; about $3,000 less than the average statewide teacher salary.
Her success as a teacher is fueled by a passion for music. She loves music, and has since she can remember. She has played woodwinds since she was in elementary school. Though her parents (Gray’s mother is a supervisor at the Mayo Hospital, and her father is a pilot, flying Boeing 737 jets for U.S. Airways) provided her with the necessary funds and instruments to play music when she was younger, they encouraged her to study medicine.
She chose music instead. (Continued on page 2.)