Doug Ashcraft is now officially head of the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Since the former school president left in July 2012, Ashcraft had been interim head and dean of the school. Last week, the school’s Board of Governor’s decided to make Ashcraft’s position permanent.
While Idyllwild Arts serves two separate, somewhat overlapping functions, the Summer Program has long had an executive director — Steve Fraider — who is also serving as interim executive director of Idyllwild Arts.
The arts school will now have a comparable leader to the Summer Program. “This now reflects that structure,” Ashcraft said. Now the board will begin to focus on finding a new president for the institution.
Meanwhile, at the Academy’s helm, Ashcraft plans a thoughtful and deliberative approach. “We have the challenge to make sure we stay current and continue to look at the program and stay competitive with other schools, not just other art schools,” Ashcraft stated.
Ashcraft has been at Idyllwild Arts since 1993, when he came from graduate school (the University of Southern California) as the staff accompanist. He became full-time piano faculty in 1997, chair of the Music Department in 2002 and dean of the arts in 2008.
He’s not adverse to change, but “change” is not his goal, rather only a means to providing the type of educational experience unique to Idyllwild Arts. His definition of the school’s mission is creating “independent thinkers and life-long learners.”
But leading a private school in the mountains has not isolated him from current events. He is quite aware of the trends in the educational arena, and the effort to quantify output raises concerns.
“I hear about the debate in public schools about developing people versus taking tests,” Ashcraft said. “It’s important to me as an independent school that we would stay away from that.”
As an example, Ashcraft described how the school consciously chose to stop teaching Advanced Placement courses because it wasn’t part of its mission.
Ashcraft still plays the piano but regrets the lack of time to devote to practice. “Without the obligation of a performance, I can’t find two hours a day,” he said, then quickly added that the students practice much more each day — four to five or more hours. After more than 20 years playing, he needs less practice when he prepares.
But this concern about enabling Idyllwild Arts students to have the time to learn skills, improve their talents and become independent thinkers explains why he is concerned about the quantification of the education discipline.