ATASCADERO — Recently, a grass roots meeting was held to save the choral program at Atascadero High School. The community went to social media with the idea that the choral program at the high school was about to be slashed. The program has been in danger according to administration, but they said the reason is not about the budget. The reason is staffing.
The choral programs on center stage right now are Choirs at Atascadero Middle School, Atascadero Fine Arts Academy and the three sections (the traditional mixed choir, advanced choir, show choir) of classes at Atascadero High School. The choir programs have been the same for decades, with solid teachers leading the programs for 15 years.
AHS Principal Bill Neely said the District posted a full-time choral position after beloved choir teacher Emy Bruzzo left AUSD last year to further her career in New York City, however the district received no qualified applicants. Music teacher Johnny Johnson (who has conducted choirs all over the world) temporarily stepped into the high school portion of the position for the 2018 school year, but Neely said Johnson will not be working as choir teacher next year due to limitations in credentialing.
A decision was made to reallocate the choir responsibilities to AUSD choir teachers, distributing some of what Bruzzo had been doing at AMS and some elementary schools, making the current position more than part-time but less than full-time, and mostly at AHS.
“We just have to find the right teacher,” said Neely. “That’s been the problem the whole time.” Neely said there were applications, but they were unqualified for the job.
“The candidate pool had all but dried up at that point. But we’ve been flying the position since when we heard Johnny wasn’t going to be doing the position next year.”
He said the part-time position for teaching at the high school has been flying since February. “Half way through May, I don’t have any options. I have kids who want to sing. I can’t tell you that I’m going to have a choir director, and I can’t schedule classes if I don’t have teachers to teach them.”
Not knowing if he would have a choir teacher, Neely began brainstorming. He thought he may try to get the choral students into Advanced Drama so they could participate in a musical. He thought he could find a vocalist to coach the students.
“Basically we tried to put something together so kids would have a place to sing, knowing that it was going to be very different from what we had traditionally,” Neely said.
And though AUSD Human Resources re-posted a part-time choir position Tuesday, the same position they unsuccessfully posted last year as well (minus the responsibility of teaching classes some elementary school teachers have stepped up to fill, a group of community members), teachers, parents, the Cuesta Choral Director, former and current choir and music students and even the Atascadero mayor showed up at Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting to insist on saving the choral program at the high school.
Mayor Tom O’Malley said in the oral communications portion of the meeting that he might have dropped out of high school if it hadn’t been for the choir he was so involved in. Choir students talked about how much choir and music programs have helped them in their college careers and their life trajectories and arts-supporting parents spoke on the college majors and acceptances hinging on high school vocal programs experience.
Meanwhile, the School Board and School Board Trustee Donn Clickard agreed that there’s no question choral programs are hugely important in education, and Principal Neely said he respects and supports the music community. Johnny Johnson talked him into singing in the Winter Choir Show, which was an amazing experience, and he said he completely understands the benefits of music in terms of brain development. Neely remarked, “I’m down! I’m ready to go. Man, we need to find a teacher.”
The job will pay 63 percent of the $46,406 to $74,875 full-time position at $29,235 to $47,171 per year.
Clickard said the Board will be putting the pressure on all they know to find a choir teacher, and Neely said the more people who see the need, the more people may be networking to help the District recruit someone.
“The District is re-flying the position and now I’ve got the community of musical experts beating the bushes with me. Very positive stuff came out of what appeared to be very negative,” Neely said.
Clickard performed as a narrator with the AHS Choir in “A Crazy Night Before Christmas” when he was teaching at AHS. His daughter is a musician and played in the band and said music programs contributed to her current success in music. “The choir to me is a really special thing. I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to resolve this because it’s so important.” He said all the things people said at the board meeting on Tuesday were true and they all know that. “They were all saying the same thing: Get it right folks... It’s as important as the Ag program – as important as the shop programs– as important as athletics. All are important for us to have that quality experience for kids. We want to give every kid the opportunity to be successful.”
“I hope we are able to resolve this choir thing in a manner that goes back to where we were before because we were really good,” Clickard said, hoping the community will help the effort to find a qualified teacher. “Everybody has a way we can solve this problem. They have contacts with this school and that. It was said last night, ‘Use your contacts and help us!’”
The job posting for ‘Choral Teacher’ on www.edjoin.org will be open until filled.