Hitting all the right notes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Principal Carol Mohsberg knew Patapsco Middle School's music program needed help the first time she walked into the school orchestra's practice space.

"At that time, the orchestra teacher was practicing in a storage room off of the cafeteria." Mohsberg recalled. It was so small that as she stepped inside a musician accidentally poked the new principal with her bow as she drew it across her cello.

Since that incident four years ago, Mohsberg has worked to upgrade Patapsco's music programs by implementing schedules that aid music instruction and by pushing to expand music facilities with the school's new adddition and renovation.

In February, the Maryland Music Educators Association -- which provides training for music educators and choruses -- gave her its Outstanding Administrator Award.

"I believe that she's a role model for all arts educators in supervisor positions," said Dasher Green Elementary music teacher Amy Cohn, the association's president-elect and an awards committee member. "The music faculty [at Patapsco] said she had brought the music program to a new level. ... She's obviously very dedicated to her school."

Roger Plunkett, Howard County's assistant superintendent for school administration, called the award "well deserved," adding that Mohsberg is "clearly one of our leading principals."

Plunkett also praised Patapsco's music program, and he has seen its results firsthand. His eight-grade daughter, Whitney, plays bassoon and piano in school bands.

Mohsberg has been an administrator at county schools since 1997. She was assistant principal at Glenwood and Oakland Mills middle schools before becoming Patapsco's principal. Before that, she spent 18 years with the Baltimore County public school system as a special education teacher and an assistant principal.

Mohsberg's interest in music stretches back even further. She grew up with 11 siblings, and "almost all of us play an instrustment," she said. She plays piano, clarinet and saxophone but laughs when asked whether she still performs in public.

"Only for my pets." she joked.

Kathy Miller, music teacher and chorus director at Patapsco, said Mohsberg "will listen to you and really weigh out what you're saying to her." She joined band director Robert Chamberlin and orchestra director Ben Denne in nominating Mohsberg for the award.

Miller said she, Chamberlin and Denne had asked Mohsberg to consider changes to the school schedule that would make music instruction more offective and free up teachers' time. Mohsberg took heed.

Noting that changes are often slow in education, Miller said." "We really appreciated her willingness to ... step out on a limb and try something new."

The result balanced fine arts and academic instruction. Pupils in orchestra, chorus or band no longer had to take Miller's general music course. In addition, youths could be called out of academic classes for band practices. Previously, band pupils could be pulled only from industrial arts, home economics and other "related arts" classes, so they missed the same classes consistently. Now Miller said, "they have to miss very few of any one class."

The change also benefited music instruction because children practice in groups based on instrument and skill level, rather than on which period their grade has related arts.

"This major advantage is I"m able to work with the sixth-graders better than I wver had before," said Chamberlin, who has directed Patapsco's bands for 17 years.

Mohsberg balanced academic needs by creating a weekly "Schoolwide Academic Support Day" when none could be called out of class for music programs.

"I wanted the students to be able to truly enjoy their music experience without the worry of "Gee, I'm missing a test," Mohsberg said.

Mohsberg attends school concerts and state and county music festivals when Patapsco groups perform.

She also likes to play music over the school intercom in the morning, with selections ranging from jazz to classical and including recordings of the school band. "I thought it was nice to have something where the kids are exposed to different kinks and styles of music," she said.

Mohsberg made new music facilities a priority in the school's renovations. which were completed Friday. The new wing includes a music suite, science rooms and a health and guidance suite. This was the school's third renovation since its construction in 1969.

Mohsberg said the new facility will include band, orchestra and chorus rooms, a practice room, a music library, an instrument repair room, office space for music instructors and slots for musicians' instruments.

Miller is also excited about the enlarged cafeteria's new stage. Previously, the state had to be walled off and used as a classroom.

She said she appreciated Mohsberg's support for musci when money is so tight. "That speaks volumes to ," Miller said.

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