Archive for Saturday, June 19, 1999


June 19, 1999


After 38 years of working with students and administrators, Lew Tilford, Lawrence public schools director of fine arts, is retiring.

The music hasn't officially stopped for Lew Tilford, but one song is almost over.

On June 30 Tilford, who has spent the past 38 years teaching and leading arts programs, will step down as the director of fine arts for Lawrence public schools.

"It's been a very difficult decision to make," Tilford said. "I still have an immense passion for what happens here and with the programs in Lawrence schools. They need to continue to grow."

Tilford attended Oklahoma State University on a voice scholarship and got a degree in music education in 1961.

He taught in Oklahoma and Texas for nine years before coming to Lawrence to take over the choral music teaching position at Lawrence High School in 1970. He held that position until 1987, when he was named director of fine arts.

Times have changed since Tilford entered the district. In a time when many other schools districts have cut arts programs, the Lawrence schools have expanded music and elementary art programs.

Since 1988, when the district piloted a program that put a full-time art teacher in one school, the program has expanded. Now each elementary school has art, music and physical education teachers.

"It was a great move forward," Tilford said. "Students get art from kindergarten through sixth grade so that when they arrive at junior high they're well-versed in art."

Where Tilford used to have a staff of 39 employees under his direction, he now has 80.

The sixth-grade orchestra program has been one of Tilford's success stories. Sixth-grade students who take band or orchestra receive instruction every day. About 80 percent of Lawrence sixth-grade students choose to take band or orchestra, Tilford said.

"It's made a difference in the success of the kids," he said. "We have two bands at the junior highs, and at some we've had to go to three or four because so many kids want to be involved."

Tilford also started Showtime at LHS, which has grown into an annual spring tradition, as well as fall concerts.

"Today more than ever we have a need for art education," Tilford said.

Besides the facts that the arts are, of themselves, important in everyday life, Tilford said, research indicates that students who participate in arts programs score higher in other academic areas.

"I'm so proud of him for what he's done," said the fine arts director's wife, Charlene Tilford. "Everything he's done for music and drama is so great. I appreciate everything he's done and the hours he's devoted to Lawrence students and developing the programs."

Lawrence administrators are in the process of interviewing candidates for Tilford's replacement.

-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is

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