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Q&A with Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli

The superintendent of Dayton Public Schools shares her musical memories and why she fights for music education.

Dr. Elizabeth Lolli is the superintendent of the Dayton (Ohio) Public Schools (DPS), an urban district of 14,000 pre-K to high school students. 

In 2016, she took the bold step of bringing back the DPS Music Education Program after a 10-year absence.

In addition to funding the purchase of new instruments for the district (some of which came through ESSA Title IV-A), Lolli hired full-time band and choral directors for each of the secondary schools. She also hired two arts education administrators to facilitate the adoption and implementation of an articulated, standards-based curriculum.

Today, every DPS elementary student takes music while enrollment in secondary programs has grown to more than 1,000 participants — 17.5% of secondary enrollment overall! Dr. Lolli is the embodiment of “making a difference.”


Q. When did you know that you were going to make music the focus of your professional life?

A. As a young child, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I loved to sing and participated in church and school choirs. It was in high school that I decided I wanted to be a music educator.

Q. What piece of music do you wish you had written and why? Dr. Elizabeth Lolli

A. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” because it is simply a beautiful piece of music. The melodic line and repetitive rhythmic pattern make my heart sing!

Q. What is the most embarrassing musical moment of your life?

A. It happened on the practice field during summer marching band camp. As a trombone player, I was always in the front row surrounded by boys. On this particular day, all I could think about was the fact that I would be taking my driver’s ed test right after band practice. Our director called on me to play the music as a spot check. It was the classic “Get It On” with the trombone slides in the beginning. I was so distracted because of my pending driver’s test that I couldn’t make my lips, tongue, lungs or slide work! I was so embarrassed!

Luckily, I passed the test later that afternoon, so I was able to turn my energy back to practicing. The next week when I was spot checked again on the field, I was ready and nailed it!

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?

A. People who do not respect children enough to teach their very best every day, all day.

Q. Why is music important to humanity?

A. Music expresses the soul of the population. It expresses our cultural ideas and beliefs. Music also supports brain development and learning. We know the research on how music education affects math and reading. I have seen it in my own personal experience.

Q. Which person from history, dead or alive, would you want to have lunch with, and what would you discuss?

A. I would like to talk to Abraham Lincoln. I would discuss his presidency and his strategy and beliefs about the Civil War.

Q. What book is on your nightstand right now?

A. Behold the Man by Bodie and Brock Thoene.

Q. Other than music, what brings you inspiration?

A. Worshiping in church and studying the life of Christ bring me inspiration. In addition, I am also inspired by young children as I see so much potential for success.

Q. What is your favorite guilty pleasure food?

A. Brownies and ice cream

Q. Why is it important to protect access to music education?

A. Music is vital to the whole child. Music education is an opportunity for children to learn about their culture, their heritage and their own preferences for listening. Rhyme, rhythm and repetition are all part of learning to read. Where else besides reading are these items taught? Music!


SupportED 2019v4 cover with Emily ThreinenThis article originally appeared in the 2019 V4 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.

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