Donshon Wilson was retained to become a certified music instructor who could read, write and teach music to musically-inclined Shaw High school students

Pettigrew and East Cleveland's school board have a legal duty to deliver accredited music instruction to the city's school aged children from the 2nd through the 12th grades with certified music instructors; and so does every other school district in Ohio

CLEVELAND, OH – Between 2003 and 2004 I served as a member of the Financial Planning & Supervision Commission the state assigned to pull the East Cleveland Municipal School District out of fiscal emergency.  The $12 million surplus former Superintendent Hayward Sims left the district had been turned into a $19 million deficit by his replacement, Elvin Jones, within 5 years.

Donshon Wilson’s contract was one of those up for cancellation consideration and at the time he was not certified to teach music as a former Shaw High band drummer.  School boards and superintendents are required to ensure students are taught to read, write and perform music while in elementary, middle and high school.

Wilson’s inability to teach music created the academic conditions for what has now been more than two decades of the state, East Cleveland’s school board and superintendent failing to deliver required music education training to public school students.

From my recollection of the resolution I voted for as a member of the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission, Wilson was given two years to become a certified music instructor.  Myrna Loy Corley was who the school board selected to replace Jones as superintendent and it was her job to make sure Wilson fulfilled the terms and conditions of the resolution.

Retired Parma Superintendent Marsha Harrison, Ella Mae Bowman and Randolph Woods also voted in favor of the resolution.  All served on the commission with me.  I recall Wilson making a commitment to attain the credentials he needed to teach music to East Cleveland’s musically-inclined students; and that’s the word I expected him to keep.

At a Battle of the Bands held at Cleveland State University’s Convocation Center during my term as East Cleveland’s mayor from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2009, I remember interacting with Wilson and wanting to know why Shaw High Band students didn’t have any music score sheets with them.  He told me he “still” wasn’t teaching them to read music.  They learned songs by “ear” from recordings.

Learning to play a real instrument and sight read music is supposed to begin in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grades.

The Shaw High Band had become nothing more than a well-publicized extracurricular activity since Wilson was not a certified music instructor.  Music, pursuant to Section 3313.60(A)(7) of the Ohio Revised Code, is a required subject for all Ohio schools.  The law reads “in part” as follows:

“(A) The board of education of each city, exempted village, and local school district and the board of each cooperative education school district established, pursuant to section 3311.521 of the Revised Code, shall prescribe a curriculum for all schools under its control. Except as provided in division (E) of this section, in any such curriculum there shall be included the study of the following subjects: (7) The fine arts, including music …”

The Ohio Department of Education offers a set of kindergarten through 12th grade standards or a model curriculum that has students learning to read and write music beginning in the 2nd grade.  From the 9th through 12th grades they’re supposed to be working in music creating groups and able to possess the basic skills of competent sight music readers and composers.  From the perspective of my Baby Boomer’s generation, Shaw High should have been producing young Quincy Jones’ or the musical equivalent of a Lebron James.

High school students studying music are supposed to know how to sight read and compose.

Wilson resigned on June 25, 2021 from a job with the East Cleveland school district as director of communications and technology after 24 years of not teaching music.  Director of communications and technology was not Wilson’s “deal” with the residents of East Cleveland when I voted to temporarily save his job in 2003-2004.  He was supposed to teach their children enough music to consider it among the well-paying professions.

The average salary of a musician in a city orchestra is $150,000 annually.  There’s work scoring soundtracks for films, commercials, albums and performing with the best known bands on the planet.  There’s work behind the scenes, back stage, with record labels and production companies.  There’s work writing about bands and recording artists as well as photographing their performances.  A competent music educator coaching musically gifted children in East Cleveland schools should have now produced a list of students who have made it a career.

By the time students reach high school, Ohio’s model music curriculum has them sight reading sheet music. They’d see the treble and bass clef and know they’re keeping 4/4 time or four beats to a measure. They’d know “mf” means “mezzo forte” or “moderately loud.” They’d know “F” is “sharp” under the treble cleff and that the “D” is sharp under the bass cleff. They’d know this “#” is the symbol for a “sharp” musical note.  They’d see the 8th rest in the first bar under the treble cleff. They’d see four “whole rests” which means silence for 16 and 1/8th’s beats for 4 bars.

What it appears Corley and the school district’s treasurer did with Wilson was to pay him under the title of an administrator to oversee a popular non-accredited extra-curricular activity.  Parents who had no idea about the mandated higher music standards the state required the school district to provide didn’t know their children were being robbed.

The Shaw Rhythm Teens is a stage band that existed under Dr. Fulton’s “certified” instruction when I attended Shaw and it’s now under the direction of a band booster parent named Randolph Woods.  Music instruction appears to be incorporated into the study ethics of the Rhythm Teens.  The state’s music curriculum law doesn’t limit music instruction to just a handful of select students.

I play trumpet today at the age of 67 and played in the band of every school I attended beginning in the 3rd grade in East Saint Louis, Illinois at the age of 9.  From the onset of my music instruction I learned to sight read music.

East Cleveland schools are still failing despite the state takeover and appointment of Henry Pettigrew, Phd, as superintendent. Pettigrew and ex-administrator Donshon Wilson were featured in an IdeaStream story together when he first arrived on the job.  Instead of educating based on his ideas he should be educating based on the instructions in the Constitution of Ohio and Title 33 of the Ohio Revised Code.  He should be reviewing the school district’s past audits and lawsuits to learn how officials arrived where they are today under state control.  Word’s getting out about his contentious interactions with employees; especially a former principal and her school district employee husband.  Careers on the rise can come to an abrupt end in East Cleveland.  

I placed emphasis on the word “read” because music like every other profession has its own vocabulary-expanding language.  Students who aren’t learning to read the music associated with playing an instrument are being robbed of an expanded vocabulary by their school boards.

When I attended Shaw High School from 1970 – 1972, Dr. Alvin G. Fulton taught “music composition” and “music theory” for those students who had an interest during my 10th through 12th grades.  It meant a serious music student graduating from Shaw High School had the blueprint for the skillsets owned by legendary music producers like Quincy Jones.  I made time for the school’s “sheet music reading” orchestra.  It wasn’t just Shaw High’s band I played in upon arriving in Cleveland in 1969 whose instructors taught music.

My father moved us around until he settled on East Cleveland after he got a job driving a bus for the Cleveland Transit System; and worked out of the Windermere station within walking distance from our home.  Music had become so engrained in my curriculum from the 3rd through 9th grades in East Saint Louis that I automatically enrolled in the bands or orchestras at Harry Davis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Adams with other “music reading students” in Cleveland.

Shaw High School’s Rhythm Teens in the 1970’s consisted of at least 40 students. Another 120 or more where members of the Shaw High School Orchestra. With all the money that can be made in music it’s a crime that it’s not being taught with a high level of seriousness to students in East Cleveland schools.

There were talent shows all over the city and high school students were recording albums and touring.  Music arranger and composer Dunn Pearson, Jr. was studying at John F. Kennedy High School at 15 while recording and performing with the O’Jays and the Ponderosa Twins for Chuck Brown’s SARU Records in the 1960’s.

I can think of three Shaw High School orchestra students Dr. Fulton guided during my time at the school who have enjoyed successful careers in music.  Saxophonist Bernard Frederick Watts, trumpeter Dennis Bradley Reynolds and Tony Award winning arranger, composer and pianist Daryl Waters.

I ran into Bernard backstage in San Antonio when he was touring with the O’Jays.  I was photographing and interviewing acts for the San Antonio Community Journal after serving in the U.S. Air Force.  When we ran into each other again he was performing with Lola Falana‘s band and I was covering a story about the show for the Call & Post.

Dennis Bradley Reynolds has played with Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Steve Lawrence, Edie Gorme, Roberta Flack and George Clooney’s mother and singer Rosemary Clooney.

Daryl Waters is a Broadway – Off Broadway music composing legend.   Ain’t Misbehavin, Jelly’s Last Jam, Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk, Street Corner Symphony, Memphis: the new musical, the Cher Show.  He arranged for Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr.

I’ve asked more recent Shaw High graduates to identify Shaw High Band members they knew who were working music professionals and they could identify … none.  The most prominent person associated with the Shaw High Band is Wilson.

Wilson’s dual role as an “administrator,” and as the director of an extracurricular activity competing with the athletic department among other extra student interests, has created serious budgeting and accountability issues for the district’s treasurer.   If current superintendent Dr. Henry Pettigrew were asked to validate that music is being taught in accordance with the state’s model curriculum by certified instructors under the mandates of Section 3313.60(A)(7) of the Ohio Revised Code, he cannot produce the supporting documentation to prove it.

The Shaw High brass and drum band gives students affiliated with it a sense of belonging to an important entity. In the 1970’s Shaw High band students also played saxophones, clarinets, flutes, French horns, trombones, violins, cellos, upright bases and read music.

Wilson has been quoted in media reports as saying East Cleveland students weren’t learning to play instruments until they reached high school. That’s the fault of the school boards and superintendents.  Giving students those “funky azzed” recorders instead of access to real instruments was the school district leadership’s lazy way out of compliance.  It’s understood that Wilson made do with what he was given.  That doesn’t excuse his lack of music certification.

The East Cleveland school board’s failure to appoint a superintendent who understood the importance and power of music in a child’s life created a school district parents with musically-inclined children chose not to send them.  Wilson didn’t uplift East Cleveland’s musically-inclined students or make a music education attractive.  He uplifted himself.

Teaching music by playing cheap recorders is appropriate for 3rd World nations; but not for students living in the United States of America. Music is supposed to be taught to American children using real instruments of their own choosing.

Wilson, as a so-called musician, didn’t also see the value in music credentials or a career in the industry for himself; so he’s not instilled a value in music credentials or a music career in his students.  Their only connection to a so-called “real” musician is to an uncertified instructor whose musical ambition didn’t extend beyond playing snare drums in a high school band.

The school district’s ex-employee voluntarily-resigned but like in the past he’s hoping political pressure will bring him back.  A June 28th rally turned out around 30 supporters.

Eric Jonathan Brewer

Cleveland's most influential journalist and East Cleveland's most successful mayor is an East Saint Louis, Illinois native whose father led the city's petition drive in 1969 to elect the first black mayor in 1971. Eric is an old-school investigative reporter whose 40-year body of editorial work has been demonstrably effective. No local journalist is feared or respected more.

Trained in newspaper publishing by the legendary Call & Post Publisher William Otis Walker in 1978 when it was the nation's 5th largest Black-owned publication, Eric has published and edited 13 local, regional and statewide publications across Ohio. Adding to his publishing and reporting resume is Eric's career in government. Eric served as the city's highest paid part-time Special Assistant to ex-Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White. He served as Chief of Staff to ex-East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor; and Chief of Communications to the late George James in his capacity as the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's first Black executive director. Eric was appointed to serve as a member of the state's Financial Planning & Supervision Commission to guide the East Cleveland school district out of fiscal emergency and $20 million deficit. Former U.S. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson told Eric in his D.C. office he was the only mayor in the nation simultaneously-managing a municipal block grant program. Eric wrote the city's $2.2 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant application. A HUD Inspector General audit of his management of the block grant program resulted in "zero" audit findings.

As a newspaper publisher, Eric has used his insider's detailed knowledge of government and his publications to lead the FBI and state prosecutors to investigations that resulted in criminal prosecutions of well-known elected officials in Ohio; and have helped realign Cleveland's political landscape with the defeat of candidates and issues he's exposed. Eric's stories led to the indictments of the late Governor George Voinovich's brother, Paul Voinovich of the V Group, and four associates. He asked the FBI to investigate the mayor he'd served as chief of staff for public corruption; and testified in three federal trials for the prosecution. He forced former Cuyahoga County Coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj to admit her investigations of police killings were fraudulent; and to issue notices to local police that her investigators would control police killing investigations. Eric's current work has resulted in Cuyahoga County Judge John Russo accepting the criminal complaint he guided an activist to file against 24 civil rights-violating police officers in the city he once led for operating without valid peace officer credentials. USA Today reporters picked up on Eric's police credentials reporting from his social media page and made it national.

Eric is the author of of his first book, "Fight Police License Plate Spying," which examines the FBI and local police misuse of the National Crime Information Center criminal records history database. An accomplished trumpet player and singer whose friendship with Duke Fakir of the Four Tops resulted in his singing the show's closing song, "Can't Help Myself": Curtis Sliwa of New York's Guardian Angels counts Eric among his founding chapter leaders from the early 1980's role as an Ohio organizer of over 300 volunteer crime fighters in Cleveland, Columbus and Youngstown, Ohio. For his work as a young man Eric was recognized by Cleveland's Urban League as it's 1983 Young Man of the Year.

Known in Cleveland for his encyclopedic knowledge of government and history, and intimately-connected with the region's players, every local major media outlet in Cleveland has picked up on one of Eric's stories since 1979. There is no mainstream newspaper, television or radio outlet in Cleveland that does not include an interview with Eric Jonathan Brewer in its archives over the past 40 years.

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