Commentary: More a than just a band teacher

Editor’s Note: Due to the length of this letter to the editor, we are running it as a guest commentary.

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has said the band program at Paso Robles High School will continue.

am writing to the community to hear my voice. Another great teacher and role model for our Paso Robles high school students has been dismissed. The Paso Robles High School administration along with the school board will not be renewing the contract for Mr. McDonald, an amazing band teacher.  Mr. McDonald is more than just a band teacher. His passion for each student he teaches truly makes a difference in their lives.

Mr. McDonald came to Paso Robles High school in the fall of 2017, when our oldest son was beginning his senior year. Spencer had natural musical talent and could play any instrument he picked up, but he didn’t really excel at any of them in particular. As a hip professional musician,  Kevin McDonald soon became Spencer’s favorite teacher and role model (he even started copying his mannerisms and hairstyle). He taught him how to play the upright bass.  Spencer quickly grew to love that instrument above every other instrument. He told him he could actually make money with it through college because every combo band needs a good bass. With Mr. McDonald’s help, Spencer found a used bass for $800 on Craigslist and bought it with his own money. Spencer and his younger brother Tyler (who plays alto and bari saxophone), drove around the county for paid gigs in restaurants as well as farmer’s markets for busking, playing the music they learned in jazz band. Spencer could not imagine a better summer job! They earned thousands of dollars in tips and loved the look on people’s faces as they played their favorite old jazz tunes. The older audience loved seeing young people showing an interest in their generation’s music, and children loved to dance, put money in the tip jar and learn about their instruments.

Tyler is currently a junior at Paso Robles High School. He has struggled with his health over the past few years, which has in turn affected his grades and his self-esteem. He was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which has been a huge adjustment. Mr. McDonald has taught Tyler to cope with his challenges through music. Tyler now researches musicians, plays saxophone for hours on end, and composes his own original music, thanks to Mr. McDonald. His improv solos bring me to tears because they are full of emotion as he plays from his heart. He is currently taking three classes from Mr. McDonald (concert/marching band, jazz band and music history), and they get him through his day. Mr. McDonald is always quick to compliment Tyler and treats him like a fellow professional musician. As his mother, I have watched his self-esteem soar! It is difficult to watch your child struggle and not know how to help. Mr. McDonald was able to step in and make a difference in our son’s life.

Our third son, Dallin, is a freshman at Paso High School. He is a straight-A student, has earned a perfect score on his state test and has won multiple writing and speech contests. Most recently he was awarded second place at the high school’s Poetry Out Loud competition — an accomplishment that is practically unheard of from a freshman! Because Dallin is so capable, he can be hesitant to take risks and try things he doesn’t think he will do well. For this reason, he was not interested in doing jazz. Improv is scary! But trusting his older brothers, he signed up for jazz band. Mr. McDonald has gotten Dallin out of his comfort zone to both challenge and humble him. He helped him overcome his fears by giving him the tools of improv, followed by lots of encouragement. Dallin wasn’t perfect when he first started, and that is exactly what he needed.

The amazing thing about Mr. McDonald is that he sincerely cares about every student and caters his instructions to their needs. He picks up on nuances in their moods and challenges they are dealing with and helps them in any way he can, even if it has nothing to do with music. I have watched my 3 boys grow musically beyond what we thought possible at the high school level, and all three of them have composed original music for the jazz band to perform, thanks to Mr. McDonald. His impact on the students at Paso Robles High School will travel with them through life. His dedication and passion for being a great leader, role model, and mentor is priceless.


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