Educator a ‘passionate’ arts advocate
Jim Van Zandt, this year’s winner of the Outstanding Music Educator Award from the National Federation of State High School Associations, had what he would describe as a “well-rounded” education.
He played trombone in the Bonham High School band, ran track and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from the University of North Texas.
He has also spent more than 35 years teaching high school bands throughout Texas.
Since 2001, he’s directed the fine arts program for the Round Rock Independent School District, overseeing the finer details of the music, theater, art and dance curriculums for grades K–12.
He does this, he said, because fine arts are just as important to a student’s development as the typical core subjects.
“Through the arts, children learn teamwork, socialization, time management and an overall ability to be collaborative people,” Van Zandt said. “Data shows that students do better across the curriculum when we educate the whole child.”
Van Zandt further explained that many of his best musical students have gone on to become doctors and lawyers after attending places like Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Though they didn’t major in music in college, he believes that they did so well because they were immersed in the arts in high school, which he said he has found stimulates higher levels of thinking.
He’s also noticed that those who excel in art do better in subjects like math and science, he said.
“I think he’s so passionate about the arts because he’s seen his students not just succeed in band, but in life,” said Lisa Roebuck, a colleague of Van Zandt’s for 12 years and curriculum specialist for fine arts for RRISD. “He believes fine arts is a very important part of making well-rounded students.”
But fine arts should also be taught for its own sake, Van Zandt said. In fact, Van Zandt says he has been accused of passionate advocating for the arts.
“He’s an advocate for every aspect of fine arts, not just music,” said Denise Cochran, RRISD dance curriculum specialist.
“He will go to battle and has helped in many ways for state decisions for dance and every other art. He’s gone down to the State Board of Education many times to fight for fine arts. He’s in constant communication with administrators in the states. He’s on the phone, he’s talking to other directors. Daily, he advocates for us,” she said.
For his part, Van Zandt isn’t shy about his advocacy.
“I’ve done that often,” Van Zandt said with a laugh. “I’ve talked to the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, the Round Rock Area Arts Council, local school board, principals, community booster clubs and whoever else will listen.”
In his spare time, Van Zandt also supports Round Rock bands, choirs and orchestras as the executive secretary for Music Region 26 of the Texas University Interscholastic League. He helps bands prepare for UIL and travels to advise marching bands during practice to help out wherever he can.
When asked if he misses directing bands, he responded “every day.”
“But I feel I’m where I’m needed at this time,” he said.