Mark Thane, the superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools, was honored last week as the first-ever recipient of the Montana Music Educators Association’s Outstanding School Administrator award.
Thane was presented with the award at an MMEA conference event on Thursday, which included a concert from the Youngblood Brass Band.
“We’re recognizing him for his support of music over the years in supporting teachers, supporting kids, supporting programs that lead to the great fine arts program here in Missoula,” said Kristin Harney, the president of the MMEA.
Last spring, Thane was named Regional Superintendent of the Year by the Western Montana Association of School Superintendents. Thane was nominated for the new MMEA award by John Combs, MCPS’s fine arts supervisor. “Mark has had a strong history of showing support for not just music, but all of the fine arts in Missoula,” Combs said.
Thane said while he is honored to receive the award, he can’t take all of the credit. “The reality is that this is a district award,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be in a district that places tremendous value on the arts and a town that places such value on the arts.”
Combs said the culture of Missoula and programs like the SPARK! initiative from the Kennedy Center put the city in the forefront of what’s happening in fine arts and music education.
SPARK! is a community-wide partnership between MCPS teachers and administrators and local arts organizations with the goal of expanding arts programming in schools. The program introduces students to music and the arts through trips to places like the Missoula Children’s Theatre and classroom activities.
Thane played a significant role in implementing the program and working with community partners shortly after he became superintendent in 2015.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the arts,” Thane said. “Not only do the arts enhance our culture in Missoula but I think really serve to augment instruction, to help us reach students that we might not reach through other teaching methods or modalities.”
MCPS has an extensive K-12 music curriculum, which requires all students to receive music education. By middle school, all MCPS students are enrolled in band, choir, orchestra or a music class.
The district has also worked to make instrument rentals affordable for students and organizes scholarships and resources to provide students with instruments who can’t afford rental fees. “If they want to play, we make sure we get it taken care of for them one way or another,” Combs said.
Combs said Thane has also had a history of supporting students who go beyond the curriculum by working with other school administrators so students are able to travel to perform at special events.
Thane said that going forward, he wants to continue to focus on music education through support for the district’s bands, choirs and orchestras, and by providing professional development to music educators.