Delavan-Darien earns another ‘Best Communities for Music Education’ award

BestMusicLogoDELAVAN – For the second time in three years, the Delavan-Darien School District has been honored with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education.

Delavan-Darien joins 476 districts across the country in receiving the prestigious award in 2016. It was the only district in Walworth County to receive the award and one of just 18 Wisconsin districts recognized.

The district received the award in 2014, the last year it applied for it.

Robert Crist, Ed.D.

Superintendent Robert Crist, Ed.D.

“I am extremely proud of our music teachers and music program supporters for the work they’ve done to receive this award,” Superintendent Robert Crist said. “We have and will continue to have an exceptional music program and we are honored to receive this national recognition. I am pleased to have our community’s continued support for our music programs.”

“It’s wonderful to be recognized among the top districts for music education in the country and to have one of the most appreciated music programs in the state,” said Elementary Music Teacher Donna Berg. “We are grateful to the district and community for recognizing music as a priority, and we’re especially honored to receive this award a second time.”

The Best Communities Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students as part of the schools’ core curriculum. Districts that receive the award “set the bar in offering students access to comprehensive music education,” according to the NAMM.

Jennifer Bayerl

Jennifer Bayerl

“This award shows that our music programs have support from a lot of people in our community,” said Delavan-Darien Orchestra Director Jennifer Bayerl. “Many people, in addition to  our music teachers, believe music education holds high value and is a very important part of our schooling. Hopefully, other parents will learn this about our schools and want to send their kids here, because we do have one of the top music education programs around.”

Districts that have been recognized by the NAMM Foundation are often held up as models for other schools and educators looking to boost their own music education programs. The application process is very stringent and thousands of schools and districts apply each year.

“I have been here for 18 years. I told the administrator when I started that we could make our music program really grow, and he let it happen,” Bayerl said. “That has been the attitude of our administrators and school boards ever since, and our music program has truly  thrived.”

Bayerl said that the wide breadth of the Delavan-Darien music program sets it apart from others in the area.

Orchestral and band instrument instruction starts in elementary school. The general elementary music classes use the popular Quavers Marvelous World of Music Curriculum. Beginning band and orchestra students get opportunities to perform for their classmates and for events such as a Celebration for Dr. Suess. Each elementary school also offers an honor choir for top music vocalists, who perform alongside professional opera singers when Opera For the Young visits Delavan-Darien each year.

There are multiple choirs and an honor choir in the middle and high school, and multiple strings (orchestra, string choir) and bands (pep, concert, symphonic, jazz) groups at those levels. In addition, Phoenix Middle School has a ‘MIDI sound lab” for students to create their own music, and teachers are using the district’s one-to-one technology to include new music curriculum pieces into their lessons.

There is also a strong slate of supporting music classes at the high school level, including African Drumming, Advanced Placement Music Theory, Guitar Ensemble and The History of Rock n’ Roll.

In addition to a strong music curriculum at all levels, Bayerl said the district also offers a lot of in-school contact time between music teachers and their students, as well as many extra-curricular offerings, including field trips, public performances, music contests and instructional clinics with renowned musicians.

Just this year, members of the DDHS orchestra and band had the opportunity to  attend an open rehearsal with world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony. DDHS and Phoenix Middle School students played for travelers at the Dane County Regional Airport. High school groups have played on stage the Wisconsin State Fair and at locations all over Walworth County.

Each year, the DDHS band, orchestra and choir members have rotating out-of-state experiences that have had them performing and learning at Carnegie Hall, Harvard University with the Boston Symphony, and New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. This year, the DDHS Band will attend a national performance festival, a performance of the National Symphony Orchestra, and work with a clinician from George Mason University on its upcoming trip to Washington DC over Spring Break.

“Not many schools have much as we have regarding student/teacher contact time with individual and group rehearsals,” Bayerl said, noting that many schools only offer after-school music enrichment. “Our administrators understand how important lessons are to during the school day to have kids progress as musicians. This lets our kids have choices with what they want to do. They don’t have to choose if they would rather be a musician or an athlete. Many of our students are involved in both activities.”

“Individual and small group lessons are incredibly important in the musical development of our students, and they allow us to differentiate our teaching to address the individual needs of our students and the overall needs of our programs,” added Nick Stark, the DDHS director of bands.

The district is also supported by an active Delavan-Darien Friends of the Visual and Performing Arts philanthropic community group, and the parent-driven Delavan-Darien Band Booster Club. Both groups provide critical funding support for music programs and opportunities for student musicians to show their talent to the community.

To qualify for the Best Communities designation, district music staff answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, and community music-making programs. Responses were verified with school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.

This award recognizes that Delavan-Darien is leading the way with learning opportunities as outlined in the new federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which recommends music and the arts as important elements of well-rounded education for all children.

While the Delavan-Darien School District has long supported its music programs and offerings, community music programs have been drawing increased attention because of a landmark study by Northwestern University brain scientists. These researchers found new links between students in community music programs and academic success in subjects such as reading. The study found that just two years of music lessons improved the precision with which children’s brains distinguished similar speech sounds, a neural process that is linked to language and reading skills.

“We see that kind of feedback all the time from other staff,” Bayerl said. “Since our teachers recognize the benefits of music education in core classes, many teachers will send us emails or links to videos or TED Talks about music research and the connection that exists between other subjects.”

Beyond the Northwestern study, other reports indicate that learning to play music can boost academic and social skills, such as processing math and learning to cooperate in group settings.

A 2015 study, “Striking A Chord” supported by the NAMM Foundation, also outlines the overwhelming desire by teachers and parents for music education opportunities for all children as part of the school curriculum. A large majority of teachers and parents believe that children should have opportunities to learn to play musical instruments as early as elementary school and that music and arts education are “extremely” or “very important.”

That is certainly the case in the award-winning Delavan-Darien School District.

About Delavan-Darien’s Music Teachers

Elementary Teachers

Donna Berg

Donna Berg

Donna Berg: Donna Berg came to the Delavan-Darien School District in 2002. She has taught music at Turtle Creek, Darien, Wileman and Phoenix. Before coming to the Delavan-Darien School District, she worked with professional singers and dancers on many stages in schools, theaters and theme parks. She spent 10 years at Disneyland in California where she sang, danced and directed many of the talented entertainers there. Her 30-plus years of educational and show business experiences make her a lively and enthusiastic part of the staff and make her classes fun. An Illinois native, Berg received her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Indiana University. Berg has a passion for music and the performing arts and hopes to provide a safe place for the children of Delavan and Darien to discover their talents and learn how to let their lights shine. Just two years ago, Ms. Berg launched the first ever Elementary Honor Choir in our district and it has become a great place for our 4th and 5th graders to get on the path to becoming great singers.

Peter Finnegan

Peter Finnegan

Peter Finnegan: Peter Finnegan came to the Delavan-School district in 2014. He earned a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Concordia University Chicago and a Master’s of Music degree from Northwestern University. His prior experience includes starting and nurturing a string instrument program at Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park, Ill., and ten Lutheran elementary schools in the west suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught general music in Chicago at urban public and private schools. Finnegan’s main instrument is the violin and he has extensive experience on percussion and guitar.  Currently, he performs with the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra. Finnegan believes all children have talent and talent can be developed through hard work. He is very proud of the fourth- and fifth-grade band and orchestra students he teaches and enjoys seeing them progress on their way to becoming life-long musicians.  

Marie Severing

Marie Severing

Marie Severing:  Mary Severing is a long-term substitute general music at Turtle Creek Elementary School. She previously taught choral classes at Big Foot High School for nearly 30 years and at Evansville High School prior to that. Severing has experience designing music curriculum, developing coordinated music programs between schools in multiple counties, and performing as a soprano soloist with various civic choruses and orchestras throughout Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. She conducted more than 30 Broadway musicals while a high school teacher and is a member of multiple professional music associations.


Middle and High School Teachers

Jennifer Bayerl

Jennifer Bayerl

Jennifer Bayerl: Jennifer Bayerl has been teaching Orchestra students in Delavan-Darien since 1997. Before coming to Delavan-Darien, she taught general music in Whitefish Bay and South Milwaukee and Orchestra in Mukwonago.  Bayerl earned her Bachelor’s degree in Music with certification in Music Education from Alverno College in Milwaukee and her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Walden University. Bayerl is a cellist, having begun playing through her public school program at the age of 10. She currently performs on occasion with various orchestras and small ensembles. She is currently  member of the American String Teacher’s Association and has been a member of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater String Advisory Board. Bayerl is proud to tell people that she teaches in Delavan-Darien, believing this is a vibrant community with great families who value education and support the arts. She feels that students who study music are exercising their brains, their muscles and their souls. Music is a gift that brings people together from all walks of life.

Mark Butzow

Mark Butzow

Mark Butzow: Mark Butzow earned his Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the fall of 1996 and completed his Master of Music Education from the VanderCook College of Music in Chicago in the summer of 2004. He began his teaching career as a substitute band director at Phoenix Middle School, where he continues to teach today. Academically, Butzow is responsible for Music Technology, Eighth Grade Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, and Concert Band. His primary commitment is the success of all students of music in the Delavan-Darien School District. He is extremely proud of the excellent reputation earned by the Phoenix Middle School Music Department, which he credits to hardworking students and fellow music teachers.

Jim Larson

Jim Larson

Jim Larson: Jim Larson has been with the Delavan-Darien School District since 2000. He is from Kenosha and is a graduate of Tremper High-School. His Bachelor’s in Music Education is from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Larson also has a Master’s of Music in Choral Conducting from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Larson began his teaching in the Milwaukee Public School system, where he taught Kindergarten through sixth grade music for nine years. After a sabbatical while working on his master’s degree, Larson taught in the Madison School District at West High School. He then came to DDHS, where he is Director of Choirs at DDHS. Larson also directs or co-directs many of the DDHS Theater productions each year.

Julie Ropers Rosendahl

Julie Ropers Rosendahl

Julie Ropers-Rosendahl: Julie Ropers-Rosendahl joined the Delavan-Darien School District in 2004 after teaching band and choir in the state of Illinois for 10 years. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she earned a Bachelor’s of Music Education. She did additional vocal work at UW-Green Bay. Her Master’s of Curriculum and Instruction from the College of St. Scholastica was earned in 2000. She currently teaches Choir, Piano Lab and General Music at Phoenix Middle School. In addition, she is a co-director of the school musical. She and her students can frequently be found making music in the school’s “MIDI” piano keyboard lab.

Nick Stark

Nick Stark

Nick Stark: Nick Stark is the Director of Bands at DDHS, a position he has held since 2013. He came to the district from the Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Illinois, where he taught a wide array of musical disciplines including jazz and marching band, guitar ensemble, music technology, and music theory. Stark also previously taught band classes at  Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park, Ill., and  Lutheran High School South in St. Louis. Stark has Master’s degrees in Wind Conducting and Music Composition from Central Michigan University and  a bachelor’s in Music Education from Concordia University (River Forest).

About The NAMM Foundation:

The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants and its approximately 10,300 members around the world. The foundation advances active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs. For more information about the NAMM Foundation, please visit


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324 Beloit St. Delavan, WI 53115
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