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Posts Tagged ‘marching band’

In 2004, Russell Shedd took over the music program at Scripps Ranch High. My first contact with Russ was when he called our house looking for my oldest child, Catherine, who was a rising senior at Scripps. A percussionist, she had organized the percussion cabinet at the end of the year and had left a note taped to the door with her phone number, threatening death or great bodily injury to anyone who put anything on top of the timpani. In that era, parents and students alike thought the timpani were convenient way stations for books, hoodies, and backpacks. Never mind the concept of tuning.

I had to tell Russ that Catherine was at Tanglewood in Massachusetts and wouldn’t be back for a couple of weeks. Right away I realized I’d given him the wrong impression of the Scripps music program. In those days the kids took band because it wasn’t Phys. Ed. Catherine’s trip to Tanglewood was the product of her own drive to become a musician and our family’s deep reverence for all things musical. I have studied clarinet since I was nine. We were the exception, not the rule.

But Russ had a vision for that program. He wanted to make it his own. And he wanted to teach kids MUSIC. He fought his way past the parents who didn’t understand what a music education from Interlochen and the University of Cincinnati meant. A fine clarinet player, he took the time to actually give recitals, so the unbelievers could become believers. And they did.

And because band can be fun, he thought of ways to encourage the kids to work hard but to have fun. Responding to his enthusiasm and joy for teaching music, the good kids began to come. One by one, including my youngest child, Michael. Little by little, the program grew. The marching band might be small, but everyone on the field was playing. No horn holders. And the depth of sound that Russ could create with fifty kids rivaled the big bands where half the kids weren’t playing because they were just there for the Phys. Ed. credit. And when he wanted new uniforms for the band, he led the fund raising drive by training for and entering a 50-mile run to get money for the uniforms.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the orchestra grew and thrived. It went from four violins, a viola, and a cello – none of whom had a clue about tuning – to seventy amazing musicians. So amazing, in fact, that in April, Russ won the California Association for Music Education’s Award as Orchestral Music Educator of the Year for Southern California. Oh, and in his spare time, he became the full-time choir teacher and the AP music theory teacher, too. In other words, he became the entire music department.

So how does this story of great talent, perseverance, and love for teaching end? With a pink slip. That’s right, dear reader. For all his hard work and dedication, the school district sent Russ a pink slip in May. Raises to more senior teachers – even though Russ has tenure – required the district to let some teachers go. And hire date was the determining factor – not achievement.

In my attorney life, I hear a lot about injustice. And I see some, too. But not nearly as much as you’d think. But this injustice tops the record books. No wonder qualified dedicated people don’t want to be teachers. I left that field many years ago, heartbroken because I couldn’t find a job doing what I loved, teaching writing. And watching Russ’s efforts, achievement, and education be discounted this way, hurts me to the core. And tells me I made the right decision all those years ago.

Children and their education are our future. The study of music will teach a child everything he or she needs to be succeed in life even if he or she doesn’t become a musician. We need to stand up for our outstanding teachers because the school district doesn’t appreciate them. If Russ does finally have to move on, I know there is a school district out there that will highly value his dedication and talent. It’s just that it should be the one here, right now, where he has worked so hard for the past eight years. As a local TV commentator says every night, “It ain’t right!”

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