Wesley McCune, a music teacher for 19 years at John Adams Elementary School, has been named the 2008 Alexandria City Public Schools Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher by The Washington Post.
“He takes wonderfully diverse students and develops unified musicians,” says John Adams Principal Mary J. Gibson. “They are proud and knowledgeable about the music they present. Mr. McCune’s students demonstrate focus, enthusiasm and knowledge whether identified as talented and gifted or autistic.”
McCune is one of 20 regional winners of the Agnes Meyer award, presented annually by The Washington Post. Teachers, students, former students, parents, administrators and the general public choose nominees, each of whom must have at least three years of teaching experience in the school or school system in which he or she is currently serving.
McCune’s many accomplishments include an opera education program he developed and implements for students in grades three through five. Through the program, which integrates social studies Standards of Learning with music standards, fifth-grade students write text, rhythms and melodies for arias about Virginia historical figures such as George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.
“Mr. McCune’s opera education program has contributed to John Adams Elementary School raising its pass rate in the area of Virginia Studies on the Virginia Standards of Learning assessments over 50 percentage points and maintaining a passing rate well over the benchmark each subsequent year,” Gibson says.
McCune has established school partnerships with such organizations as the Washington National Opera and Seattle Opera, and his students’ original productions have been produced at the Alexandria Black History Museum, the Torpedo Factory Art Center and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
McCune’s opera students testified twice before Congress on the need for funding of the arts in schools.
A certified instructor in the Orff-Schulwerk method of music instruction, McCune is the founder and director of the John Adams Orff Ensemble, which performs lively concerts on pitched and non-pitched percussive instruments throughout the metropolitan area for national and international conferences, civic organizations and community events. The group appeared at the opening concert of the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, where they performed with Billy Taylor and Charlie Byrd.
“He seeks to balance the enrollment of the ensemble of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders between students who excel in music education and those who need a positive connection to school,” Gibson says. The students, who practice under McCune’s direction for an hour before school starts, “learn not only musical skills but life skills.”
McCune has a Bachelor of Music degree, cum laude, from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master of Music degree from Ohio University. He has studied at the Academie de Musique de Sion in Switzerland; the Mozarteum: Orff Institute in Salzburg, Austria; George Mason University, where he received Orff Schulwerk certification; Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music; Westminster Choir College; and Seattle Pacific University. In addition, he is certified in “Music! Words! Opera!” through the Washington National Opera.
McCune received the Whole Village Award from the Virginia Education Association; the Excellence in Education Award from the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce; the Community Service Award from the Alexandria Gazette Packet; and the Alex Award from the Alexandria Commission for the Arts. He was a finalist for the Eddie Award, and received two resolutions honoring his work from the Alexandria City Council. In 2005, McCune was one of 30 teachers selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities to participate in an institute on Mozart in Vienna, Austria.
In supporting McCune’s nomination, colleagues, parents and students offered numerous examples of the teacher’s abilities to instill a desire to learn and achieve, understand students’ individual needs, share his thorough knowledge with students, foster cooperative relationships with his colleagues and the community and demonstrate outstanding leadership.
“Mr. McCune is the kind of teacher who uses humor and patience to reach even the most challenging student,” says John Adams Fifth-Grade Teacher Marty Ransom. “Wes McCune is a valuable, dedicated member of the John Adams community, and students, as well as staff and parents, feel very lucky to have him here.”
“One only needs to walk in the halls at the school and hear what the students enthusiastically discuss about music or listen to a music class to know that Mr. McCune has taught and guided the students to enjoy and truly understand making music,” says Band and Orchestra Teacher Jami Bolton.
Says one student, “In Music, McCune has taught us how to read notes, distinguish notes, learn songs, how to play different instruments and much more. He has done so much for us it would take forever for me to list … And most of the things I have said he has wanted to do, not because it is his job.”
ACPS nominees for the Agnes Meyers award include finalists Felicia Faye Baskin, seventh-grade social studies teacher at George Washington Middle School; Amy Cable, special education teacher at George Washington; Charlotte Dwyer, kindergarten teacher at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy; Bradford Hart, physical education teacher at George Washington; Susan Hurst, reading specialist at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School; Cassandra D. Jackson, math teacher at George Washington; Jennifer Larsen, first-grade teacher at George Mason Elementary School; Jennifer Lay, biology and chemistry teacher at Minnie Howard School; Vesta Nelson, lab science teacher at William Ramsay Elementary School; and Rosetta Stewart, second-grade teacher at Matthew Maury Elementary School.