This article was originally published in "Richardson Living" magazine. Read it on that website or read it here. Or read it in print. In mail boxes now.
A Conversation with Jeff Bradford
Executive Director of Fine Arts, Richardson ISD
In 2019, for the eighth straight year, Richardson ISD was named one of the best communities in the nation for music education by the California-based National Association of Music Merchants. That is just one of many awards for RISD just in music. RISD also offers education in theatre, dance, and the visual arts. Over the years, the RISD has had some illustrious leaders in fine arts. Former directors went on to lead the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA), the Texas UIL Music organization, the Texas Bandmasters Association, and the University of Oklahoma's "Pride of Oklahoma" marching band. Today, their big shoes are filled by Jeff Bradford as Executive Director of Fine Arts for the Richardson ISD. Richardson Living spoke with Jeff about the state of fine arts in RISD. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Richardson Living: How long have you been involved with fine arts and with RISD?
Jeff Bradford: I was hired in 2006 to be the Director of Bands and Fine Arts Coordinator at Lake Highlands High School. In January of 2015 I began serving RISD as the Executive Director of Fine Arts. I'm starting my 14th year in RISD serving the students, staff, and community. This marks my 19th year in public education.
RL: Most people are probably aware of elementary choir and high school band. What other programs does RISD offer students?
JB: RISD offers K-6 elementary music two days a week and visual arts one day a week. Junior high offers band/choir/orchestra/theatre/visual arts. High school offers band/choir/orchestra/theatre/dance/visual arts.
RL: How does participation in fine arts benefit students?
JB: If we want students to be diverse learners who understand and appreciate the differences we all bring to the table, what better way to shape young minds than to expose them to the arts. We want to help create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.
RL: Given how popular tastes evolve and how the cultural diversity of RISD does, too, how is the RISD keeping current in its fine arts programs?
JB: We strive to hire innovators in every classroom that are aware of their students' needs and combine their spin on arts education with the agreed upon adopted curriculum in RISD. We also discuss marketing our programs, as the buffet of options has grown dramatically in the last few years. We are engaging students from all walks of life to find their home in the arts.
RL: What can RISD do to ensure fine arts is affordable for all students?
JB: Continue to make funding decisions that account for the nature of the needs that are specific to the arts and the RISD model. Because we have a very diverse student body, we must account for that, as well as needs for staff. RISD uses the bond process to support larger capital items that have a life span of more than a year. Booster clubs are very involved with funding day to day needs for students.
RL: The Texas Legislature seems to have brought some budgetary relief to school districts across Texas. What impact will there be for fine arts?
JB: Honestly it's still too early to tell. State decisions will trickle slowly to departments pending district priorities. RISD as a district, and the community, have always seen fine arts as one of the most valuable and important programs for student engagement and learning. Because of that, I have full confidence that our leaders in RISD and the City of Richardson will continue to provide for our students and the programs they find success in.
RL: What are some unique challenges faced by the fine arts in RISD?
JB: RISD still uses the K-6 elementary model and 7-8 junior high model. Most of the state has moved to K-5 and 6-8. Students have the option to start band/orchestra in 6th grade and then choir/theatre in 7th. Dance doesn't begin until 9th. A true middle school model of 6-8 grades with all fine arts activities offered at the same entry point to allow kids equal opportunities for choice and best fitting would be better for fine arts.
RL: How are the RISD fine arts programs viewed elsewhere in the state and nation?
JB: RISD continues to have a presence at the region, state, and national level. Over the past 50+ years, RISD has been a trend setter in support for the arts, but also in showcasing what kids are capable of. As we have evolved as a district, our demographics have changed but our community's expectation for excellence hasn't. Our programs continue to consistently showcase the city and school district on the state and national stages. We are fortunate to have had multiple groups traveling the last 3 years to Chicago, Omaha, San Antonio, and beyond to showcase their talents.
RL: How can the community participate in and benefit from the fine arts programs in RISD?
JB: Attend the events. Check the school district and program calendars at www.risd.org/finearts and show up to watch these kids perform and create. Every child joins our programs to find a home and to express themselves. But when they can share their gift and hard work with others, it makes it all worthwhile. Creating and expressing ourselves is such an impactful gift that we can share with each other. When our kids put in the hours they do to truly master their craft, they deserve to be applauded and encouraged for the next opportunity.