Q&A: Get to know Robert Horton, Conroe ISD’s fine arts coordinator

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Following national recognition of Conroe ISD as one of the best communities for music education for the eighth consecutive year by the National Association of Music Merchants, CISD Fine Arts Coordinator Robert Horton said continuous support of students, administration and the school board makes the district’s arts programs possible.

Horton has been involved with CISD since 1992, when he started as a teacher. In May 2015, he was named the fine arts coordinator and has continued to develop the program.

What does CISD do to gain recognition as one of the best communities for music education?

It starts with our school board which is committed to quality fine arts education for all of our students. Right behind that is our school administration, which supports our teachers and students by not only scheduling the fine arts classes, but they and I work together to hire quality fine arts teachers. Our kids are extremely successful in lots of ways, not only in the classroom but in ways to demonstrate their talents. … We have thousands of performances every year where our students are demonstrating their learning beyond the classroom.

How did you become interested in the arts?

I have been involved in music my whole life. In elementary music and art, I felt at home. I was an art student in junior high and a choir student in high school. I decided to be a choir teacher for my career. I earned a bachelor in music education and a master in music and taught choir for 25 years. Having served as an elected officer in both the Texas Choral Directors and Texas Music Educators associations, I have been privileged to serve my colleagues. I also earned a doctorate in educational leadership.

What is the importance of a school district having a strong fine arts program?

In times of financial downturn, [the board]has never cut staff or programs that impacted kids’ ability to access high-quality teaching and learning experience in the arts. [The arts] make us more human. It gives us more opportunities for empathy and more ways to relate and collaborate with others. There are things one can accomplish through the arts that they could never accomplish on their own. It gives our students an experience that helps them relate to one another; they develop all kinds of social skills as well as persistence and grit.

What have you added to the fine arts program?

One program that is new to CISD is the mariachi program at Conroe High School. It started as an after-school activity as a club. They are starting to do public performances and performing alongside the orchestra concerts.

When you have a new program, how do you secure funding?

First of all, the staffing comes from the campus. They’ve done fundraisers; they’ve used some of the budget money provided by the district. Through a variety of funding sources, they got a grant for their uniforms. They’ve been able to develop this [mariachi]program that is really just an emerging program; it has only been around for a year or so.

How do you partner with the community?

For the last several years, we have had an event at The [Cynthia Woods Mitchell] Pavilion called Holly Jolly Jingle, and that has featured our orchestra programs from The Woodlands High School, College Park High School and Oak Ridge High School. We’ve had several of our groups involved with the Children’s Festival in November and the Waterway Arts Festival in April.

Another thing we’ve done that is really neat is a partnership with the Houston Symphony where they have a program called Houston Symphony Residency. Our high schools have worked with their players called community embedded musicians. … They do master classes and side-by-side performances with our students.

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