Parents claim they were kept in the dark during the hiring process of the school’s new band director, Ginny Markham, and students complain their new director is unwilling to work with them to address their concerns.
A group of about 20 Lassiter band parents met Monday night at a home near the high school, northeast of Marietta, to discuss their options for moving forward with their complaints.
“She’s a bad teacher,” said parent Bruce Bonsall.
Parents huddled around a dining room table ate bowls of chili and swapped horror stories of their children’s recent band experiences.
Complaints to the principal and central office employees had gone nowhere, and parents felt stuck.
Now, they are planning on making an appearance at the Board of Education meeting today, after meeting Monday to work out what they were going to tell the board.
What they’re upset about
Parents said Markham just didn’t have enough experience to take on such a prestigious ensemble.
The Lassiter band recently won first place at the Bands of America Regional Championship in October at a competition in Towson, Md., a victory parents say does not reflect their faith in the band’s director.
They have been petitioning the school principal, Chris Richie, who hired Markham in late spring 2013, for an explanation as to her hiring, to no avail.
“He hired her and absolutely doesn’t want to hear it,” said Bruce Boone, parent of a senior trumpet player.
He and his wife, Trish, said the integrity of the band was at stake, and they were worried about its future.
“This is the Lassiter band. This is the best band in the entire Southeast. Somebody needs to help us,” he said.
A proud tradition at Lassiter
Former Director of Bands Alfred Watkins took over Lassiter’s music program in 1982, building it into a nationally recognized program before he retired last spring, much to the dismay of the school’s band community.
They remember Watkins as an emblematic leader of the band program, a teacher both in the classroom and on the marching band field. The band community had high expectations for his successor, as the Lassiter band has twice won the national band championship at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in 1998 and 2002.
When Watkins announced his retirement, band parents, booster club members and students involved in the roughly 300-person ensemble said they wanted to pitch in to help find the perfect replacement, but their attempts to provide input were ignored by the district.
“Dr. Hinojosa is not meeting our needs,” said Donnell Willequer, a parent at Monday’s meeting.
Markham came from Allatoona
Before coming to Lassiter, Markham served as director of bands at Allatoona High School, the assistant director of bands at Kell High and at Lassiter when Lassiter won the Bands of America Grand National Championship in 2002.
While at Kell, she worked with Richie, who was then the assistant principal of the school, and parents suspected the two had been friends.
Markham graduated with a bachelors degree in music education from the University of Georgia in 1998, and was drum major of the Redcoat Marching Band at the school for two years.
She received a masters in music education from the University of Illinois in 2004, according to the school district website.
Not up to Lassiter’s standards?
Students said Markham didn’t know how to manage such an elite group of musicians.
Brittany Pietsch, a senior flute player, was a drum major this year, and was optimistic when Markham arrived.
Pietsch said she hoped Markham, a former drum major at UGA, would share that experience with the Lassiter drum majors, and was disappointed when it never happened.
Pietsch said she had watched Markham all semester, and felt she was unable to work with every section of the band.
While Markham had some band experience, Pietsch said it wasn’t enough for the Lassiter band.
“I’m sure she would be a good director for a band that doesn’t want to be that good, but that’s not the case at Lassiter,” she said.
Parents said they were concerned that Markham’s husband, Gary Markham, who retired as the supervisor of music for the district last spring, may have been involved in the hiring of his wife, and that the district hadn’t done much to convince them otherwise.
“She was hired under suspicious circumstances,” Bruce Boone said.
Band parents said they were confused about how the hiring process for the new director played out, and have gone so far as to submit open records requests to get more information from the school district.
“Parents feel there has to be some wrongdoing in the hiring in some way,” said Barbara Sobel, a concerned mother of a sophomore tenor saxophone player.
Students upset with changes
Students said they brought a list of concerns to Markham in September, but their teacher had not yet responded to their input.
Jacob Greifinger, a senior trumpet player, said he felt Markham was unable to provide useful information to the young musicians. He was concerned with what he said was a lack of warm-up time spent during rehearsal, misguided directions from Markham on tone quality and an imbalance of sound throughout the band’s sections.
“It’s like having a calculus teacher that doesn’t know half of the curriculum teaching us for the Advanced Placement test,” Greifinger said.
She was perfectly nice, the students stressed, but not knowledgeable enough for their needs.
“She can’t help us because she doesn’t know,” said Tyler Boone, senior first-chair trumpet player.
The students said they joined the Lassiter band because of the wonderful things they had heard about the program, and were worried the future of the band would not hold its stellar reputation.
One of the pillars of the band program was Spirit Plus System Equals Success.
Boone said he felt both the system and the spirit were broken.
Response from district
Markham and Richie were unable to comment Tuesday. When the MDJ called the school, school staff forwarded reporters to the district’s communication desk. Doug Goodwin, a spokesman for the district, said the district did not make comments on personnel matters, and did not return subsequent phone calls.
Board of Education Member David Banks, whose post includes Lassiter, said the school community was going through a rough transition period between band directors.
He had heard complaints from some of the parents at the beginning of the school year, but believed the conflict had been smoothed out.
Banks stood behind the decision of the district, and the school’s principal. He said Markham’s previous band at Allatoona was very successful, and he had faith in the future of Lassiter’s bands.
The board was powerless to making changes with personnel matters, he said.
What parents would like to see
Parents and students said they wanted a new band director.
“She needs to be removed,” Bruce Boone said.
They planned to send personal letters to board members and to present a list of their complaints during public comments at Wednesday’s board meeting.
“We need a new director ASAP. I know I speak for a lot of the kids in the bands. A lot of people would refuse to sit in her class for another semester,” Pietsch said.