Parents show support for beleaguered Lassiter High School band leader
by Hannah Morgan
December 12, 2013 01:26 AM | 41132 views | 148 148 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Freshman Ethan Sobel, 14, holds the bass drum as the Lassiter High School Marching Band practiced for the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. STAFF/EMILY BARNES
Freshman Ethan Sobel, 14, holds the bass drum as the Lassiter High School Marching Band practiced for the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. STAFF/EMILY BARNES
The attorney for the Cobb Board of Education refused to let a group of Lassiter High School parents address the board Wednesday with complaints about the school’s new band director.

Meanwhile, the band director, Ginny Markham, has hired an attorney to defend herself against a dissident group of parents who have publicly criticized her job performance and the process under which she was hired.

A group of about 20 parents and their students from Lassiter High’s band program were prevented from speaking at a school board meeting Wednesday, because their comments related to a specific teacher.

The parents and students showed up to discuss their outspoken concerns with Markham, who took over the position this year from a beloved 30-year band leader, Alfred Watkins.

A number of other parents have now risen up in defense of Markham. They did not attempt to speak with board members Wednesday, they said, because they are satisfied with the top achieving ensemble’s success in Markham’s hands.

Board policy and legalities

Board attorney Clem Doyle said he skipped over the group of 14 people signed up to speak during public comments because they had indicated they would be speaking about a specific employee.

“It’s against board policies to discuss personnel matters during public comment,” Doyle said.

After public comment had ended, Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn invited the Lassiter Band group to the front of the room to speak privately with individual board members.

“I’m frustrated that we can’t speak in public about our concerns,” said Roger Toland, the father of a sophomore clarinet player at Lassiter.

Some parents said they felt stuck. After not getting what they wanted from the school principal, Chris Richie, they were upset the board didn’t seem eager to make any changes at the school.

“Where do we go now?” asked Trish Boone, a parent of a senior trumpet player.

Board member Kathleen Angelucci listened as a group of students, parents and alumni shared their complaints.

Angelucci said she encouraged the students in the band to become leaders within their sections, and to spend their energies teaching each other and search for a compromise.

Not all parents feel the same

After an article ran in the MDJ that reflected the concerns of the 20 parents, other Lassiter parents spoke up and said they were quite happy with the band program under Markham’s leadership.

Tom Estella, the father of a sophomore mellophone player, said Watkins left large shoes to fill, and wishes all the parents and students would do more to support Markham.

“She really hasn’t had an opportunity to succeed or fail, she’s only been there one year,” he said.

The few parents and students who are complaining do not fully represent the thoughts of the rest of the band program, Estella stressed, and said their complaints were creating a toxic environment for the band community.

Parents in the band’s booster association are supposed to assist the band’s director, Estella said, and he doesn’t believe they are doing so.

Markham’s lawyer says she is more than qualified

Markham was an excellent choice to fill the vacant band director role, said Marietta-based attorney Robert Ingram, who is now representing Markham.

Markham reached out to her lawyer a few weeks ago for advice on how to respond to a handful of disgruntled parents who were making “unwarranted and defamatory attacks” against her, Ingram said.

Following Watkins in his role was an extremely hard thing to do, and the first-place trophy from the October Bands of America Regional Competition in Towson, Md., should prove Markham is doing a good job, Ingram said.

He believed there would be naysayers no matter who took over the direction of the band.

“It would be impossible for Principal Chris Richie to select a band director to follow Alfred Watkins who would satisfy all the parents of 300 students,” he added.

Richie made the decision to hire Markham without the help or input of Markham’s husband, Gary Markham, who retired last spring, Ingram said. Claims by the few parents who said otherwise were unwarranted and false, he added.

“Fortunately, decisions on hiring and firing of band directors is not left to the collective mob-mentality of a few parents. If it was left to parents, schools would be in absolute chaos,” Ingram said.

He has faith in the future of the Lassiter Band, and in Markham’s capabilities.

Ingram provided this statement in an email:

“The bottom line is that Ms. Markham loves all 300 students that are a part of the Lassiter Band, she is well credentialed, and she plans to continue leading the band in a tradition of excellence by winning championships as they did under her leadership this past October. Ms. Markham is optimistic about the future for the Lassiter Band programs and encourages the parents to rally together as a team to continue the Lassiter Band’s tradition of excellence.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
January 19, 2014
If this woman leaves this school, the band is entirely in trouble. There's not another band director out there worth their salt who would take this job.
East Cobb Bob
October 12, 2014
Quite the opposite is true. This band director was chased out of Lassiter a few years ago for a reason. Mrs. Markham is barely a year into her stint with the program and the decline is dramatic. This weekend marks the first time since 1988 that Lassiter hasn't won a BOA regional that they competed in. They actually scored 5th and well behind other Cobb County schools.

Mrs. Markham chased away the talented assistant directors who were groomed to lead the program into the future and she her demeaning and neurotic method of working with school aged kids has caused most promising musicians to pursue other music paths outside of the band program.

Once concert band season hits you will find that Lassiter's top band will hardly be on par with the second and third bands of other local programs. The program is now in rampant decline!

Here are the 2014 Jacksonville BOA Scores:

82.70 - Harrison H.S., GA

80.15 - Kennesaw Mountain H.S., GA

80.10 - Fort Mill H.S., SC

79.75 - James F. Byrnes H.S., SC

78.25 - Lassiter H.S., GA

74.55 - McEachern H.S., GA

74.35 - East Coweta H.S., GA

73.55 - Kell H.S., GA

73.45 - Ooltewah H.S., TN

71.95 - Hoover H.S., AL

Outstanding Music Performance - Harrison H.S., GA

Outstanding Visual Performance - Kennesaw Mountain H.S., GA

Outstanding General Effect - Harrison H.S., GA
Reap what you sow
January 13, 2014
Ms. Markham hired a lawyer because she knows what these parents are capable of. Mr. Watkins was/is a talented director, but he was not always held accountable for his missteps. The initial principal tried to keep him in line, but the Cobb County Board and Gary Markham pressured later administrators to insulate Watkins from anyone who might tarnish his reputation. Over time, he enabled the boosters to intimidate parents of incoming freshmen, who in turn intimidated the next incoming class. The cycle repeated, becoming worse as years past.

No, Ginny Markham is not hiring a lawyer out of guilt ... she is hiring a lawyer because these parents are out of control.
Fireman Fil
December 20, 2013
You don't win a BOA Contest of any kind -- regional, superregional, grand national, or whatever -- based on last year's experiences.

BOA competition is simply at too high of a level for "previous teachings" to win a contest. Sure, groups with excellent past instruction are in a better position to be successful, but it takes a TOP QUALITY director and staff to win at this level.

Mr. Watkins was - and still is - an INCREDIBLE teacher. He is on the "Mt. Rushmore of HS Band Directors" IMHO. But if Mrs. Markham is as unqualified as a select group of meddling parents and "entitled" children are accusing, then Mr. Watkins's prior teachings would not have been enough to propel the Lassiter Band to the success they had this year.

The suggestion that Mrs. Markham and her staff had nothing to do with this band's success is sheer lunacy and a slap in the face to hard-working band directors across the country.

concerned person
December 16, 2013
i disagree with this, the only reason they won is due to Mr.Watkins prior teachings. The lessons and skills that they were shown by him carried on to when there was a new band director. However, i can not make a final dicision until later when there are less uperclassman and the "lessons" that Mrs.Markham teaches affects half the band. I agree that there are always going to be some people who will say no to a new idea but i know many of students( particularly brass) who dont learn anything in class do to her lack of useful information for the essential elements of there instrument. I hope that next year will be better what ever what happens
Dan teacher&musican
December 14, 2013
There are valuable lessons to be learned in this situation.

Bitterness, gossip, slander and habitual complaining will make anyone unhealthy. The words of a gossip are swallowed greedily, and they go down into a person's innermost being. When many join in, it's called a mob, and historically, mob mentality will only lead further down a negative road.

In reading some of the complaints, the perceived reputation of self aggrandizing seems unhealthy. The malcontent complainers could have selected a role of leadership, and been exponentially more self-less, assisting with the transition to a new tradition for the program. It is possible, that in spite of the long history of accolades, the values of this program are being hijacked on an out of control freight train destined to crash.

One would hope that the only goals for this program are not limited furthering a reputation of winning awards. One would think there is a greater purpose of music education, and this is not the vision for high school education.

If the malcontents win, this will not end well for the school. The future could include a revolving door of new directors shredded by whiners, and the program will be run into the ground. Someone on the board of education and in the superintendent's office needs to advise the complainers of the destruction they are causing.

The director deserves a better welcome wagon than this, and I would hope her career isn't adversely impacted by the vocal complainers. It's time for healing, and then move on. The world has bigger problems to solve.
December 14, 2013
This situation is not only the best argument I've seen for tenure, but clearly shows how badly states like GA need unions for teachers and why states like GA have such low ranking education systems. It's always funny when a family moves to Cobb or Gwinnett from another part of the country and says "Wow what a nice school! My kid started getting honor roll when we moved to the Atlanta suburbs!" I guess that's how they get all these annoying parents to shut up.
treble clef 2
December 13, 2013
As parents of 2 former band students, we completely agree w/"Phew". Very similar actions against Mr. Watkins occurred some 12 years ago. He too hired a lawyer to defend the character assasinations led by some LBBA Band parents and the accusations were put to rest. Never, ever were slanderous remarks printed that could be read nationwide. Our children, now 30 & 33 are applalled at the way these present LBBA Boosters are airing their dirty linen.

Would you as husband & wife want your spousal disagreements to be presented to the public in such a tabloid like manner?

You parents are destroying the dignity of this fine organization & school. Stop it now please!!
December 13, 2013
PARENTS - there is a time and place for your input and the line is being WAY over-crossed here. Let the poor woman do her job and establish herself.

By the way, I have this strong feeling that most of you are completely clueless that Ginny Markham (previously Ginny FERRELL) was an assistant director at Lassiter when the 2002 band brought home the national championship. Not to mention a solid collection of 1st place regional trophies. She knows what she is doing. Step back and let the transition happen.

I am pointing fingers here - YOU people are the ones that tarnish the reputation of a great program that is 30 years in the making and the community of Cobb County. The real world doesn't work like this. Turn off your soap operas, your reality shows, your "Real Housewives" shows... you're becoming all of the above. And the actual real world is now laughing at you. So am I, you're pathetic!

And shame on the MDJ for giving this small group of parents this kind of attention. This brings negative attention to the Lassiter band program and the community. Please do not delete my comment this time.

Rant over :)
Treble clef 2
December 13, 2013
Totally Agree. Stop it. Parents!!
Brad Hayashi
December 14, 2013
@GA_Musician Absolutely, amen. Well said.
December 13, 2013
From a somewhat knowledgeable outsider -

The Lassiter band is a victim of its own success. My wife and I both grew up in local band programs, and we marched in college - I know a thing or two about band programs and this one in particular. The Lassiter band is no doubt the envy of many a program in the area - known for its precision, its performance, its excellence. I used to live in the Lassiter district and would love listening to rehearsals during my kids' ball games.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum...somewhere a long the way, the Lassiter band turned into a cult following filled with adults and students (and maybe staff) which started to pump each other up with increasingly inflated egos about how special and how wonderful they were. I distinctly remember a Lassiter band alum who joined my college marching band as a freshman (a large, nationally recognized marching band in the SEC). At his very first practice he announced that he "was from Lassiter High School and *this* band was taking a big step backwards" for him. It is one thing to think that, but it is something else altogether to have the guile to say it out loud.

So, we left the Lassiter district a few years ago when I got a new job, and reading these articles and comments make me thankful. I am thankful that my kids will not have to deal with these people and this environment, and it makes me feel gross to have lived in such an area with these entitled repugnant adults who never seemed to grow out of middle school themselves.

Grow up people.
♪♫ Cobb parent ♪♫
December 13, 2013
We love our west Cobb middle and high school band directors! All of them are fantastic. On the rare occasion my kids complain about anything the directors require of them I remind them that the directors are professionals and know what they are doing and to take the instruction in the spirit of constructive criticism that will improve their playing skills,and just as often, their life skills.
Appalled Parent
December 13, 2013
As someone involved in the marching arts for over 30 years at almost every level...I am appalled at what I read about in the Lassiter program.

I have been a member, alum, volunteer, instructor, administrator, and now a parent. I do not have a degree in music, but am a teacher. I have stood on more football fields than many of you can even imagine, competing at local, national, and international levels. Daresay, I am a bit more qualified to speak on this topic than 99% of the band booster parents (as well as the students).

1. The great majority of music programs across the country would BEG to have someone as qualified as Mrs. Markham involved in their program, never mind run it. Someone that has worked with marching bands for decades and holds two music degrees from outstanding music programs. To say that she isn't qualified is ludicrous.

The fact that you have a music program. That you have a quality marching program is light years more than thousands of districts have. Be grateful for what you have and don't complain.

2. "The best band in the Southeast." "..elite group of musicians." REALLY? I'm sure you are proud of your program but you can't rely on a championship trophy that is over a decade old.

Get off your trophy shelf and join reality. Reality says that if these students were really an "elite group of musicians" then they would practice hard and follow the directions given to them by their teacher. Just because said teacher doesn't do things the same way as last year's teacher...that is okay.

What are you all teaching your children? In the future what will they do out in the real world when their boss retires and a new one is assigned to them that doesn't do things the same way? Will they then go to the newspapers to complain about how things aren't going the way they want to?

3. Reality Check #1. A band booster association is there to boost the band NOT to hire directors or other employees, make policy, choose music, or have input into the program. They are there to raise funds, chaperone, and build sets/equipment as needed. Nothing else.

4. Reality Check #2. Good luck to your students if they do want to move on in their marching/music careers. Now when applying to a college or auditioning for a group w/ DCI or WGI the fact that they are from Lassiter will be a negative instead of a positive. What DCI corps will want to offer a contract to a member of a band that can't listen to their instructors and follow directions. A member that complains instead of doing what needs to be done.

In my long marching career (8 years on the field) I can promise you that there were instructors (even directors) I didn't like. That didn't mean I didn't do my job. It didn't mean that I ran off to malign them publically. It didn't mean that I left the organization or tried to get them fired!

Here's the thing. Change happens. Mrs. Markham is developing the program SHE wants under the direction of her principal, the school district administration, and school board. THEY are her bosses NOT YOU. Just because you raise money for the music program that does not give you the right to dictate anything about it.

You don't like it, we get that. You brought your issues to Mrs. Markham and you still don't like it. You brought your issues to the principal, and you still don't like it. We get it but obviously you don't. THEY DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE TO WHAT YOU WANT!!!! You are a parent and a booster. They are obliged to listen to you and take it into consideration but not to do what you say.

If you truly care about your marching organization you will stop acting like toddlers and start acting like mature adults. You will tell your children that if they don't like the way Mrs. Markham runs the band, they can drop it and not participate next year. You can be the adult and apologize for your actions and step away from the program (since you don't agree w/ it) and let those that do support it instead...that is the right thing to do for these kids.

EastCobb Native
December 13, 2013
Sad, sad, sad for all of Cobb County. People are supporting Mrs. Markham because of the way the parents at Lassiter are handling the situation and the way the MDJ chose to report the situation. The article and the comments by the parents and students are extremely personal attacks not based in true facts. Should CCSD perhaps investigate further? Yes. But a group of parents should not be able to bully a teacher out unless it is PROVEN that he or she can not do his or her job. If band is the ONLY reason that you choose to go to Lassiter and you do not like the band director perhaps as parents you CHOOSE to move your child to another school. If your child truly loves music and is not getting enough instruction from their current director there are many other avenues for them to hone their skills to become better musicians. Good luck to all involved.
Did I read that righ
December 19, 2013
EC. Native- you stated " But a group of parents should not be able to bully a teacher out unless it is PROVEN that he or she can not do his or her job. "

Under NO circumstances should a teacher be allowed to be bullied! Your mentality is what is wrong with society!
Sensible Musician
December 12, 2013
To "Band Supporter"

The idea that the band boosters earned a right to have a say in the hiring process of a public school's band director is outrageous and shows how entitled you are.

The role of any school's band parent organization has nothing to do with music education. Depending on a school's budget, it operates primarily for 3 roles.

1. To provide support when the band travels. Assisting in logistics of transporting and loading/unloading equipment sets the entire program up to be more organized and have a greater chance for success. That way, the staff can focus on warming up, and the students can focus on preparing for their performance.

2. Provide appropriate meals to students when asked by the director so that long days can be as productive as possible and all students have food and don't need to leave a school to go get food.

3. Fundraising. Whether the money is used to pay for food, purchase orders for new equipment, or additional money to compensate additional band staff positions can vary depending on the school.

The boosters support both the staff and students by assisting in areas that contribute to the overall success of a program, while still operating outside the actual education of students. It is every parent's choice to be a part of a band booster program, but if they decide to volunteer their time, they are not earning rights in the decision making process of the direction of a music program.

Not only is it absurd to demand to be kept in the loop of the hiring process, as was said in the first article, but it is most likely illegal.

As long as this teacher (with proper credentials and previous experience according to the article) is behaving in a professional manner with her students and is not endangering their safety, then there is no reason to attempt to undermine the program you claim to care so much about or to publicly attack her and demand her firing. Do you think a school will find an excellent candidate in an expedited hiring process in the middle of a school year? I assure you that they will not. Especially when everyone now knows that the boosters want to run the band program.

The appropriate thing to do would be to voice your concerns to an administrator in private and leave it at that. A teacher in her first year at a school should be getting frequently observed and data would be collected over the course of the year. If the she truly is causing such damage to the program, she probably wouldn't make it through a second school year anyway.

In addition, any students that feel they are talented enough that their marching band director cannot teach them should not be marching at their high school anyway. They should be marching in a DCI Drum Corps and participating in an independent drumline or colorguard so that their needs are met.
December 12, 2013
As a former lassiter parent and someone who has dealt with the MDJ in recent years, I would hope that the newspaper would take some responsibility in wreaking havoc with many lives, some kids, some adults, by printing articles without facts, based on misquotes, and innuendo. I hope that the MDJ will have the guts to print this, I do believe that none of these comments would be warranted IF the MDJ had done its job and reported the facts in a responsible manner. I don't have a whole lot of confidence in some of their writers, reporters (many who add untruths, and nonfiction to the stories to make them sound good to get a reaction from the community.. sells newspapers and keeps the blog going.
December 12, 2013
What teacher gets an attorney if she has done nothing wrong??? I think theres more to this story than was written in the MDJ.
No dog in this fight
December 13, 2013
What narrow-mindedness is that kind of thinking? The only reason to retain an attorney is when you've done something wrong and need to be defended? How about when you have done nothing wrong, but are attacked and still need to be defended? Or better, how about when you've been publicly defamed and your reputation has been tarnished by a small group of people? Those people will be supplementing her income when this is all said and done.
Logic and Reason
December 13, 2013
Ummmm, a smart one that's reading the writing on the wall of a lynch mob parent's group. A lawyer is highly effective for protecting a party to being subjected to abuse and slander, which I would say is clearly the case here.
Been there
December 13, 2013
These days, you have to protect yourself in these situations. The person with the least (as in almost no) protections in the entire educational system is the teacher. Everyone else is protected from every one else by pages and pages of laws and rules, while the teacher has to take what ever the administration, other teachers, kids, parents, and everyone else in the community dishes out. A HUGE reason that quality people no longer want to go into teaching, and that the average "lifespan" of a teacher is now about 7 years. I managed to last 27 years, but left at the age of 52 because I was tired of dealing with adults.
Treble Clef 2
December 13, 2013
Mr. Watkins got an attorney some 12 years ago when something similar happened to him. Are you then saying that he was guilty because he hired an attorney?
December 12, 2013
1. The second one of you parents or "supporters" shows me your music education degree and provides actual musical evidence for this woman's ineptitude, I might take you somewhat seriously.

2. When students to go to a teacher and tell her how to run her program and be she disagrees because she is a professional adult and knows what's best, it does not mean she isn't listening. I am sure she has her own way of doing things that might be a little bit different.

3. Get over yourself and give the woman a chance. As a young teacher two years ago I was in the same situation. Now things are much different. If you don’t like it, quit. Leave. Let her do her job in peace.

4. Hannah Morgan... You need to find other things to report about. These articles are inappropriate and are causing Ms. Markham a lot of unwanted and unnecessary publicity. You need to write her and the public an apology.
December 12, 2013
I have no idea who's right and who's wrong. That being said...

1. Band Directors share links to pages like these. I'm in the northeast. Internet comments and articles get around.

2. When people apply for HS jobs, they google the program to see if stuff like this pops up.

If you have grievances, do your best to remain appropriate. These news articles and comments aren't doing anybody any favors. Best of luck to all involved.

Anonymous & Concerne
December 12, 2013
Question quoted above: “Where do we go now?” asked Trish Boone, a parent of a senior trumpet player.

Answer: "Maybe study hall?"

Ungrateful people!!!

Former band mom
December 12, 2013
This is beginning to sound like the inmates want to rule the asylum.

Give this poor lady a break. Alfred Watkins was a great band Leader but he did not gain that reputation over night. How would you have been judged after your first three months on the job.

If every teacher was ousted because of student dissatisfaction there would be no teachers in our County. Since when do Parents have a say in who gets hired or fired by Cobb County? Once again the Parents of a few have overshadowed the Parents of the Majority. Band is not a requirement for graduation. If your little darling is unhappy let him quit and make room for someone who is willing to learn.
band mother 98 03
December 12, 2013
How fondly I remember the times of volunteering within the Lassiter Band Community. Even then there was always someone who was disgruntled or unhappy (usually within the LBBA, even from myself) with decisions being made. A parent with Mr. Watkins or Ms. Samuels. Ms. Sinon and yes at times Ms. Farrell (now Ms. Markham).

Yet, how hard everyone worked! The students, directors, assistants, parents, even little brothers and sisters! Despite our differences in opinion one thing was perfectly clear.......we were part of a community. A nationally and yes...internationally respected music program that demanded the respect of every professional within the music community.

No matter our differences of opinion with how "we" thought things should go, one could not overlook the professional genius that was part of the Lassiter Program. A genius nurtured by Alfred Watkins, assisted by other musical professionals within Cobb County and our nation and supported by thousands of parents and members of the Cobb County Community.

With this in mind and the common respect due to each individual I am begging that the comments both positive and negative stop now!

In this day of blogging, facebook, istant messaging, texting, etc we have lost a sense of

decorum and dignity in the way with which we communicate and express our opinions. Contrary to the "hope" of making changes with these remarks you only embarrass yourself and delegitamize any concerns you might have.

The one thing that I do that this year after being away from the band community for over 10 years I had the opportunity to attend Alfred Watkins retirement celebration.

Ms. Markham saw me, and came to speak to me. We were able to exchange a few pleasantries and memories of Alfred's influence on this program, the community, and the children themselves.

It was very clear to me that Ms. Markham has every intention of continuing the history of excellence that Mr. Watkins has cultivated within this program.

At the end of every practice the students are called to attention. Their call?

How are your heels? TOGETHER


Stomach? IN

Chest? OUT

How are your eyes? With PRIDE!

How are your eyes? With PRIDE!

How are your eyes? With PRIDE!

I suggest that the members of this community who are determined to undermine the character of any individual associated with this mess needs to be asked "How are your eyes?"

December 13, 2013
You said it all...Awesome comment!!!
Embarrassed Parent
December 13, 2013
Great response. I am embarrassed that the MDJ and these few parents are representing Lassiter parents.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides