Legislative Memo: “Strong Start, Bright Future” Tour Takes Department of Education Official to Santa Fe Arts School


Orchestra students at the New Mexico School of the Arts


During the week of September 9, 2013, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior Education Department officials traveled throughout the Southwestern United States for the Department’s fourth annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, stopped in a number of cities in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California.

Each stop highlighted the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, from pre-school through college. Among the officials who toured was Lisa Clarke, currently a Washington Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Clarke teaches social studies at Kent-Meridan High School in Kent, Washington. She became a teacher after teaching six years at Rutgers University.

Washington Fellows are placed in offices within the Department of Education to gain in-depth knowledge of Department initiatives; provide their perspectives to senior staff, share relevant school and classroom experiences with internal and external audiences,and facilitate discussion among educators about policy in D.C. and in areas around the country as necessary.

During the bus tour week Clarke visited the New Mexico School for the Arts, a 4-year-old Santa Fe state charter school.  Neil Swapp, music department chair, and president of the New Mexico Music Educators Association, said the school’s development office arranged Clarke’s visit.

Swapp answered some questions about Clarke’s visit to the school, the school’s music program, and his music background:


Could you provide some information about the New Mexico School for the Arts?


“Each student declares an art focus upon acceptance (Music, Dance, Theatre or Visual Arts).  The charter school receives funds from the state.  Students take academic classes through the charter school from 9 am to 2 pm.  From 2 to 5 pm each day, students participate in an intense art education in their discipline.  This portion of the day is funded privately through the NMSA Art Institute.”

“Because of our charter and space limitations, the entire student body is limited to approximately 210 students.  There are 55 students in the music department.  We have a vocal program, instrumental program, guitar and piano programs.

Each student participates in ensembles, music theory, music history, and ear training.  Additionally, each student receives a 50 minute private lesson weekly.  Vocal, piano, guitar and percussion also participate in studio performance classes. Students must complete both a junior and senior recital before graduation.”


What observations can you share of Clarke’s visit?


Swapp (left) accompanies Clark on a music room visit.

“Ms. Clarke visited classes within each arts discipline (music, visual art, dance and theatre) as well as spoke to students, faculty and administration.  Within the music arts block she attended a portion of orchestra and choir rehearsals as well as a wind sectional.

“I felt that Ms. Clarke was very receptive to what is happening at NMSA and saw the validity in vibrant and engaging arts programs.  She seemed genuinely interested in the success of the school and the role the arts play in this success,” Swapp said.


What is your music education background?


“I am in my 25th year as a music educator in New Mexico.  This is my first year at NMSA, but I taught high school band for 24 years prior to joining the NMSA faculty as music chair.  My most recent position was director of bands at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I taught for 17 years.

“Prior to beginning my teaching career, I received a Master of Music in trumpet performance from the St. Louis Conservatory of Music and a BME from New Mexico State University.  I am the current president of NMMEA and former vice president of bands.  I am also the president of the Southwest Music Academy, a non-profit organization that provides music instruction for students of all ages in the Las Cruces area.”


New Mexico School for the Arts


New Mexico Music Educators Association


Photos Courtesy of Neil Swapp

Roz Fehr, NAfME Managing Editor for News, September 17, 2013. © National Association for Music Education