National President-Elect Candidate 2022-2024
Russ Sperling is Director of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) for San Diego Unified School District. He is responsible for all components of arts education in California’s second largest school district. Under his leadership, the district’s board of trustees unanimously approved a district Strategic Arts Education Plan in the fall of 2016 and established the VAPA Foundation, supporting the arts in schools in 2017. The district’s VAPA Advisory Council is currently revising and writing a new plan to be submitted to the school board in the fall of 2021.
He has served as Western Division President of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and also as President of the California Music Educators Association (CMEA). He is a founder and lead coordinator of the San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band, an ensemble of 80 high school and college students from throughout Southern California and the only one of its kind internationally.
Mr. Sperling began his career as the Instrumental Music Director at Helix Charter High School. During his fourteen-year tenure at Helix, the band and orchestra tripled in size, won numerous awards and performed in Europe on three tours. Mr. Sperling served three years as Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education. While at the county, he served as the leader of Arts Empower San Diego, San Diego County’s strategic arts education initiative, and created the annual Arts Empower Mega Conference.
Mr. Sperling serves on the board for Diversionary Theatre, the third oldest LGBT theatre in the U.S. He is the founding President and present board member of the San Diego Winds, a professional wind ensemble, and is the Director of the Grossmont College Concert Band.
What do you see as the major challenges music education will face during your term and in what ways can you transform these into opportunities during your presidency?
Music education reflects the overall state of education in the United States. Our teaching force does not reflect the diversity of our students, and while many have worked to change this, much more needs to be done so that the faces of music educators mirror the faces of our students. In spite of outreach to our universities and other networks, as a school arts administrator, I still do not have the applicants available in the candidate pool to impact this issue. I think music educators know that we must create a pipeline of opportunity and success, starting at young ages, to create pathways for students of color to see themselves as music educators. The K-12 system must be a place of encouragement and support, and the universities need to reimagine their music education programs to meet the needs of our pluralistic society.
Despite the many gains we have made in positioning music education to be given its rightful place as essential curriculum for all American students, music continues to exist in so many classrooms because of the sheer will of teachers, parents and students. It is the de-facto position that all music educators are advocates, and we must continue to exert our influence at every decision-making level. While we do not yet know the long-term effects of the pandemic (this presidential term begins in 2024), artists and arts and culture organizations have sustained severe losses, and I believe we will be digging out of this situation for some time. Will students be discouraged from studying music because the pandemic makes music seem like a risky choice? Will music be lost as schools choose to remediate for lost time in other subject matter?
On the other hand, many of the shifts that we have seen during the pandemic have been positive, from a more balanced teaching of the standards, especially in the area of creativity, an increase in the use of technology and online platforms, to closer connections among educators through virtual meetings and professional learning. I believe that in 2024 we will be building upon these shifts and equipping music educators to empower their students to be creators of music in ways we had only dreamt of before March of 2020.
What do you see as the major challenges the association will face during your term and in what ways can you transform these into opportunities during your presidency?
NAfME continues to face many questions about who we are. Other capable and dynamic organizations host robust conferences that music educators have made the decision to attend over NAfME’s. How do we project ourselves as the leader in all aspects of music education if we aren’t hosting a conference, a key connector for our members? How can we expand the possibilities of creating a national community? How do we stay flush financially as an
organization reliant upon membership dues in an era of declining membership throughout the professional sector? What will the financial recovery from the pandemic look like, and how much will our decisions be constricted by available resources? How will NAfME effectively serve state MEA’s when the technological needs of each state are different? How do we deliver on the promises we are making on DEIA?
The good news is that NAfME is firmly established as the leader in advocacy and research in our field. The current NAfME board is thoughtfully grappling with the difficult questions I have posed. As president, I will build on our strengths and reach out to other leaders and organizations to create the NAfME of the future that represents and uplifts the needs of all music teachers and students.
How do you plan to advance equity/DEIA in NAfME during your term of office?
Data from the pandemic shows that BIPOC persons have experienced greater loss than white people, from the number of COVID cases and deaths, to the loss of jobs and income. Existing inequities are now exacerbated, and it is incumbent upon us as music educators to address these issues head on. We cannot be neutral.
If elected NAfME President, I would continue the work of the NAfME Equity Committee and collaboratively pursue implementing the recommendations of the Cook-Ross Report. As a member of the NEB when I was Western Division President, I advocated for a full time Diversity Officer to be on staff–I still believe this is something NAfME should do. I have more to say on this topic in my Equity Statement.