LINCOLN — A former member of the Cornhusker Marching Band has been hired to strengthen fine arts education in Nebraska's public schools.
Among the first tasks for Debbie DeFrain, 57, a former Peru State College music teacher, will be leading a group of Nebraska artists and educators in writing arts standards.
The standards will contain the essentials of what all students should know about art.
There are no plans to launch a state test to gauge kids' knowledge of symphonies and sculptures. But state officials say DeFrain's hiring and the adoption of standards affirm the belief that art belongs in a child's education.
The Nebraska Board of Education is putting a spotlight on arts education after spending the past few years developing standards for language arts, math, science and social studies.
A $46,100 grant from the Nebraska Arts Council is helping fund the writing of arts standards.
DeFrain, a lifelong music teacher, has been hired as director of visual and performing arts education for the Nebraska Department of Education, a position that has been vacant for 10 years.
Her salary is $52,651.
As full-time director, DeFrain said, she will be “a Jane of all trades” supporting arts education at local districts. Under current state rules, districts must provide arts education as part of their core curriculum.
She will provide research and technical assistance in theater, music, dance, visual arts and media arts. The latter field is new to the job description and includes such things as movies, animation and Web page design.
About two-thirds of Nebraska school districts don't have an arts coordinator on staff, and many have just one teacher who handles all the arts duties, said Donlynn Rice, administrator of curriculum, instruction and innovation for the Nebraska Department of Education.
Rice said the department produced some arts guidelines back in 1998, but they were broad and need updating.
She said state officials understand that schools are already asked to do a lot, and officials don't want to overload teachers with more duties.
So the standards will contain “enduring” ideas that kids should know, she said.
The new standards will follow the template of other state standards, stating what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. They will be based on national standards and on the best ideas from surrounding states, she said.
Officials hope to have them written by the end of the year.
DeFrain said she has already met with an enthusiastic group of about 50 educators and artists to begin the writing process.
They are eager to share their passion about art with students, she said.
Once the standards have been written, she will help disseminate them and train teachers to implement them.
DeFrain's preferred instruments are piano and euphonium. Her career path ran through Omaha for a time. She taught vocal music, worked on musicals and was an accompanist at Omaha Tech High from 1979 to 1981.
She received her bachelor of music education and master of education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with majors in piano and low brass and a minor in vocal music.
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