Dr. Adrianna Marshall, K-12 Coordinator of Fine Arts and Physical Education at Kansas City Public Schools (photo by Jim Barcus; makeup/styling – BeautygirlKC; hair – Salicia Presley)
Kansas City native, Adrianna Marshall, Ph.D., has been on the job as the K-12 Coordinator of Fine Arts and Physical Education at Kansas City Public Schools for a year. Dr. Marshall stands out in the post, as most of her predecessors had administrative certification, but not artistic training. Dr. Marshall holds a B.A. from Xavier University, an M.M. from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Florida. A practicing musician, she brings an artist’s vision to arts education in the public schools, supporting programs that transcend drawing and coloring to encompass ideas and critical thinking.
Dr. Marshall has ambition for KCPS students to be prepared for a career in the fine arts. She is working toward creating academic pathways that will inspire more students to choose majors in the arts upon graduation. She also wants to strengthen and heighten the profile of Paseo Academy, where many Kansas City artists got their start.
Dr. Marshall also shares her expertise in fine arts education programs through Marshall Educational Consulting, which she owns and operates. In 2019, she founded the non-profit Marshall Music Foundation with a mission to create access to high-quality fine arts education in the greater Kansas City area. She is a wife and a mother of two toddlers. Given the crucial role of the arts in public school education and Dr. Marshall’s importance as a role model, we wanted to know more about her ideas and how she arrived at her present post.
Harold Smith: You’ve been the Coordinator of Fine Arts for KCPS for almost a year. What does that position involve?
Dr. Adrianna Marshall: In this position you have to be the “Big Idea” thinker as well as the “In the Weeds” type person. We are reimagining how the arts program looks throughout our district. I have been given so much support from Central Office Administrator and School Leadership to bring these grand visions to fruition. The work comes in helping classroom teachers get the support, resources and training necessary to allow these advancements to make it to the student/parent level. Therefore, I guide the creation of the curriculum and support the fine arts and physical education teachers. I also create dynamic lessons, assignments and assessments that progress in K-12 classrooms throughout our district.
HS: You’ve owned and operated Marshall Educational Consulting for nearly five years. What are some of the services you offer?
AM: Marshall Educational Consulting, LLC works directly with students, teachers and administration to create, maintain and expand fine arts education programs. I provide educational services for music students, as well as for teachers and administration. For students, I create supplemental curricula for string instruction. I provide curricula that includes music historical knowledge, compositional techniques, aural skills and foundational knowledge of music theory. For teachers and administration, I create assessments and help teachers to revise fine arts curricula. In addition, I conduct professional development workshops, schedule individual coaching sessions, and provide mentorship for new music educators. I also help school districts evaluate their fine arts departments.
HS: Your list of accomplishments and activities is staggering. Do you have any secrets to balancing all the incredible things you are doing?
AM: Prioritizing and delegation. You find that there are always competing interests. Things that we want to do and things that we must do in our family and career lives. There are times when those priorities realign based on the situation, and you have to be OK with that. And during those times when you are stuck, you must have the courage to ask for help and delegate some tasks to others.
HS: You are a Kansas City native. What experiences can you share about your pathway into a career in the arts?
AM: My educational journey to becoming Dr. Marshall has taught me resilience. My very first musical experience was in the Kansas City Public School District in 3rd grade at Merservey Elementary School, where I began taking private viola and piano lessons. My music teacher informed my parents that I had star quality and innate musical abilities. I continued to play in the school orchestra and in the Kansas City Youth Orchestra until I graduated from Hickman Mills High School. I earned my bachelor’s degree from Xavier University of Louisiana. I completed my master’s in music education at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. I earned my Ph.D. in music education at the University of Florida- Gainesville.
HS: Not very many public school art teachers are active artists. You, however, are still a practicing musical artist. What instruments do you play, what genre of music is your expertise, and where can we experience your musical art?
AM: My primary instrument is viola. Yet during my career as a music educator, I have also taught band and choir. However, I play mostly classical music and currently perform with a local string quartet.
HS: You earned your undergraduate degree at Xavier University, a historically Black college. Why did you attend Xavier, and how has that experience shaped your professional career?
AM: Like most graduates of Xavier University of Louisiana, I wanted to attend an HBCU that would prepare me for medical school. This is one of the areas that Xavier is nationally known for, but what I didn’t know at the time was how rich their music program was. I actually got a scholarship as a music major from the school and fell in love with the performing arts program. I was exposed to so many talented musicians, both at the university and throughout the city. I realized during my freshman year that I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a string musician and teacher. Now I am able to inspire and educate so many other children and young adults.
HS: As an arts educator, your positions have ranged from instrumental music director to assistant professor of music education. How have these experiences influenced your practice?
AM: In both of these positions, I was working with individuals at the end, or close to the end, of their professional or educational careers. By having this vantage point, I am able to make opportunities for students early in their elementary years, when most individuals start on the road to being a renowned artist.
HS: When you find time to wind down and relax, what do you like to do?
AM: Quality time for me is spending time with my husband and two little girls. We like to spend time playing games and hanging out in our backyard. I also come from a big family. Pre-COVID, we typically gathered for dinner two to three times each week. I also attend my brother’s church, Church of Faith International. I like to practice my viola and ride my bicycle as well.
HS: If you were to talk to your younger artistic self, what advice would you give yourself from where you stand today?
AM: Continue to trust my instinct and follow my passion. African American women in classical music or in fine arts administration are underrepresented. It takes focus and perserverance to achieve. It’s important to have mentorship and to push yourself through tough times.
HS: What advice would you give to young people, especially of color, that are considering a career in the arts?
AM: Young people need to understand that they should take the arts as seriously as athletes take their sport. Dreams are important and you should follow them, but make sure you have invested energy in making sure that you are able to perform once you get your shot. Musical talent is a gift from God; don’t take that for granted.
HS: You were a young artist in New Orleans during Katrina. Do you have any experiences you wish to share?
AM: There were so many people that lost their lives, families that suffered when parents lost their livelihood and children uprooted from their schools and friends, that all I can say is that I pray that no one has to experience that kind of devastation again. Living through that experience definitely helped me to understand how important life is and to always focus on my future aspirations. I’ve always wanted to make an impact in music education, and I feel blessed that I am.
About Marshall Music Foundation
Marshall Music Foundation was created in 2019 by Kansas City native, Adrianna A. Marshall, Ph.D. The mission of this non-profit organization is to create access to high-quality fine arts education in the greater Kansas City area. Marshall Music Camp has been the first initiative of the foundation, beginning in the summer of 2019. The focus of the all-girls’ camp was orchestral strings and dance studies for beginner and/or intermediate students. All participants had the opportunity to explore in a creative space that encourages self-expression. The campers gained the foundational strings skills needed to play simple folk songs and fun melodies on the violin or viola. During dance training, students learned original choreography to exciting routines in the styles of hip-hop, modern and ballet. Students also participated in empowerment and self-reflection workshops. In the future, Marshall Music Camp plans to expand summer camp course offerings, create fine arts opportunities for adults, and create music literacy programs for elementary students.