Band Director to Associate Principal

April 21, 2010
Mark T. had been a musician his entire life. He studied it all through college and even went into teaching it. He was a High school Band director. Being a director is one of the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding and fun jobs anyone can have. But his skills didn’t end with music; he later became a principal at a different high school. I interviewed Mark to see what the switch between careers was like.
What things did like about your job as a High School Band Director? What challenges did you face?
The single most enjoyable aspect of being a band director is the opportunity to work with my students. They were absolutely amazing! And being able to share my love of music made it even more special. High School students continue to amaze me with their talent, devotion and musical abilities. It was really special to be able to be a part of that.
The challenges I faced were time and money. There never was enough of either!
What made you want to leave that job or take the new one?
I never wanted to leave my work in music. However, during my last band director position, I became very involved with my union, serving as vice-president for several years and also as lead negotiator for two bargaining sessions as we worked with the school board to ratify a new teacher contract. I then began work on post-graduate work in Education Administration, not really planning to do anything with it immediately. After working with my union, I also ran for a seat on school board in the town where we lived. I had great experiences that saw me negotiating contracts for my own association members while also serving on the school board and representing the school district’s interests. It gave me a unique perspective for both teachers and for administrators/school boards.
In 2001 I took a position as Fine Arts Chair at WV High School. This afforded me the opportunity to have a quasi-administrative position while also continuing to teach music. I had two wonderful years in this position. It was very rewarding to work at WVHS, with their excellent music program. As I worked with staff at WV, supervising and evaluating, I really became comfortable leading staff and helping them to improve. I also enjoyed working with the parents and the parent booster groups. As we continued to experience success at WVHS, I was afforded the chance to work with central office administration and enjoyed my experiences.
I was not looking for a new position when an Assistant Principal position opened. It was the only administrative position I applied for and was fortunate enough to be offered the position. It was very hard for me to totally leave teaching. I really struggled with the move, but felt it was a good opportunity for me and my family. After one year at NVHS as an AP, Kathy Birkett moved to central office as the Asst Superintendent for Secondary Ed and Mike Popp, who was the Associate Principal at the time, became the Principal. He asked me to step into his role as Associate Principal in 2003, a position I hold at present. I really enjoy working with the teachers at NV, but have fond memories of my work at WV.
What did your normal day look like as a Band Director?
My position prior to WVHS Fine Arts Chair was in a high school that had a 4x4 Block Schedule. We had a very unique offering in our music classes, as the typical 4x4 class meets for 90 minutes every day for one semester. This isn’t favorable for music classes, as they need to meet all year long. So I was able to be a part of developing a modified block for fine arts, which gave me great flexibility in meeting the needs of my students and the program.
My typical day consisted of teaching High School Band, Percussion Technique, Music Theory I & 2, AP Music Theory. I also assisted with Middle School Technique Classes.
What about as an Associate Principal?
There are no typical days. Each day presents a new set of challenges. There are consistent groups that I meet with throughout year, however. On Mondays, I meet with my administrative team to plan specific aspects for the programs and activities for our 350 staff members. We meet for about 3 hours to discuss everything from discipline, events and staff concerns.
Each Tuesday, I meet with my 5 Deans for about 2.5 hours to discuss significant issues relative to student discipline. Included in this meeting are the two Naperville Police officers who serve as Resource Officers for our three buildings. We discuss everything from student attendance to arrests/court dates.
Every Thursday, I meet with my Instructional Leadership Team, which consists of our Department Chairs, who head up each academic discipline. These meetings are centered on curricular discussions that are focused on classes and testing.
In addition to these regular meetings, I also oversee activities in my high school. So I work with clubs and competitive teams such as Math, Chess and Speech. Currently, I am planning our Commencement and Baccalaureate Ceremonies for the class of 2010.
Both of these jobs take place in High Schools. How did the interactions with students compare between careers?
My associations with students in music were always curricular based. The students that typically are enrolled in music classes as the high school level are academically proficient and very strong students. As an Associate Principal, I often have to deal with students who are struggling for various reasons. I have direct oversight of the Deans, so I hear all discipline appeals and often work with students/families who are up for expulsion. So it is significantly different than when I was a teacher.
Through my work with activities and other projects, such as graduation, I am able to work with students in a more positive climate. The job really “switches gears” several times throughout the day. You have many “ups” and “downs” working in this environment.
Do you miss anything from your old job?
Yes – the music! It is the most powerful form of expression. Music allows you to express that which can never be put into words.
Is there anything you’re glad you left behind?
No. Miss it greatly.
What skills did you gain from Band directing that you bring to being a principal?
Working with parents - As a band director, you have to manage an excellent booster group to pay for the many expenses that your budget won’t cover. You must be good working with parents. This experience helped me greatly now that I work with parents throughout the day.
Travel – I organized many band tours. It taught me much about the pit falls of transporting students to and from activities…whether they are local or international. As an administrator, I work with hundreds of students trips that range from local activities/contests to tours that have taken me to China. My experiences on my own band tours gave me a wealth of insight in planning.
Public Speaking – when you are producing concerts, musicals and developing recordings/programs, you gain much experiencing working with crowds and people. My work as a band director has given me experience in working in front of large audiences, public speaking and public relations.

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