BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket community’s collaborative commitment to arts education was honored during an hour-long celebration at the regional high school on Tuesday.
Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen, high school Principal Jonathan Seymour and Director of Fine and Performing Arts Michael Smith hosted the event in the newly rejuvenated auditorium.
David Schumacher, who manages the auditorium space for the district, kicked off the celebration by walking those present through the upgrades he helped to spearhead in the space this past winter.
Improvements included professional grade rigging for the stage lighting and other electrical and stage enhancements as well as new storage facilities for large musical instruments.
Last spring the nonprofit Pentucket Arts Foundation advocated to the school board on behalf of safety improvements to the theater and music facilities. Voters in Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury then approved $100,000 for the work.
The Arts Foundation also partnered with the Pentucket Education Foundation this year to purchase a new baby grand piano and upright piano for the music department. Generous donations from Dan Cena of the Lt. Kenneth Fowler Foundation and from West Newbury resident John S. McGrath helped make the piano upgrades a reality. Previously, students were playing on a 105-year-old piano held together with duct tape, Smith said.
Organizers and backers of the high school’s recent interdisciplinary program “Civil to Civil” — including social studies teachers Mike Stevens and JC Honer, PEF and Sandy Berkenbush and her alumni organization “Pentucket Rocks” — were also thanked.
The event, which took place earlier this month, traced the country’s history from the Civil War era to the Civil Rights Movement and featured musical and theatrical performances, student documentaries and tri-board research projects.
Following the recognitions, Pentucket’s award-winning jazz combo showcased the new baby grand with a performance of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” featuring Pentucket’s Emma Jones on the piano and vocals. Cooper Slack performed “I Have A Dream” and the High School Chorus sang “We Shall Overcome.”
Seymour praised the team effort it took from everyone to see these changes through. “This project has revitalized our ability to showcase our students’ outstanding work,” he said.
Mulqueen told those being honored this week that their investment in the school district reaches far beyond the doors of the auditorium. “Strong communities have strong schools,” he said.