A Q&A with Heather Davis, Sartartia Middle School

Heather Davis is currently the head orchestra director at Sartartia Middle School in Fort Bend ISD. This December, her orchestra performed at the 76th Annual Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Not only are her orchestras regularly recognized for their high level of musicianship, but Heather has been recognized for her successful recruiting and retention practices.

How do you recruit for your program?

At Sartartia, we put all Fine Arts information into one Microsoft Sway document to make it easily accessible to all students. They only have ONE place to look when they want information about their elective choices. I have some recruiting information and a video that I keep on the school website: https://www.fortbendisd.com/Page/147472 

I truly believe that the students/parents can be one of your biggest recruiting tools. They will tell other families to join the program if they feel involved, challenged, and proud of the program! 

We typically do caroling at the elementary school feeders in December. It’s usually a great time to arrive at the elementary and set up outside to play as the students are being dropped off at school. The families love to see the performances in the morning, and the students are always excited to see a sibling, friend, cousin, or neighbor performing at their school!  After caroling, we do a yearly tour to the elementary schools with the band. We find that going together shows them all of their instrument options at the same time and gets many questions answered. We will offer a “Petting Zoo” event at the middle school for the 5th graders to come and see/hear all of the instrument options. 

What steps are taken to ensure your students stay in orchestra during the transition to high school?

The high school directors at our three feeder schools come over weekly to talk with the students and help wherever needed. We have a yearly cluster concert with two of the three at the beginning of the year. The varsity orchestra is invited, and we invite the other students not in varsity to attend the concert, as well. We are heading to watch a musical put on by one of the feeders this week, and the students will get to see the HS Orchestra room and meet some of the students playing in the production. 

How do you retain students?/What advice & ideas do you have for other orchestra directors? 


I believe retention begins with your daily relationship building with the students and their families. When I see a student, I say “Hello!” or “Good morning!” It doesn’t have to be a full-on conversation, but sometimes it should be. Take a second and ask them about their holiday, or how they are feeling after being absent for a few days after a sickness.  If we want them in this for the long haul with us, it starts with being intentional with our daily interactions with the students. 


Communication is key in retention. When it comes to the families of our students, they want to be “in the know” and they want to feel that their concerns are heard. I spend a lot of time responding to emails/communication in a timely manner because I want the families of my students to know that I care about their questions. I send a Smore newsletter out every 1-2 weeks, as needed. It is a great way to keep all “old news” in one place and continue to add new messages above.


Socials are important to letting the students get to know each other. They see each other in class, but it’s usually while we are rehearsing, and they don’t get a chance to get to know each other. We do an annual “Popsicles on the Patio” social at the beginning of the school year. We are about to have our “Winter Social” and it is potluck-style, where 6th graders bring sweets, 7th graders bring salty snacks, and 8th graders bring drinks. This makes the social FREE to the program, but highly anticipated by the students because we have a Disney movie planned and they can bring games/technology to hang out with their friends. We will have a Valentines Day social next month and will conclude with a spring social of some kind.


I find that it’s important to talk with the students openly around the beginning of the calendar year about their plans for the next school year. I speak with them and give the speech about how we hope they stay in orchestra, how important it is for their academic/social growth, and that if they have any reservations about staying in orchestra that they can talk to us without judgment.