From 1989 to 1997 I served as the Director of Fine Arts for a large El Paso school district. Other than holding credentials as a school administrator I had few actual qualifications for the position. I knew that if I were to be successful I would have to gather around me a team of individuals, each of whom would have to be proficient in skills and abilities that I lacked.
As principal of a rapidly growing high school I had presided over the construction of a beautiful state-of-the art fine arts complex. When I gave the new superintendent a tour of the recently completed facilities he said, “We are going to have to establish the position of Fine Arts Director just to be able to manage this place!” I must have expressed an interest because I was fortunate to acquire the position that would result for me in a life enhancing experience.
Job wanted postings went out and the search was on for qualified fine arts personnel. Don Rominsky was hired as choir director. Nathan Young and Troy Herbort came aboard as drama teachers. Ana Guerrero Moncada took over as dance teacher, John Bailey took up the baton as band director and Dolores Duenez plowed new ground as art teacher. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Cy Long, proved his worth as theatre technician. It wasn’t long before our students were presenting plays, concerts, exhibits, and musicals the likes of which had never been seen before in our community.
We kept the theatre open during the summer months with the intent of keeping our kids off the streets and out of the gangs that were so prevalent in the area by presenting elaborate musical production. State and national organizations began to visit to see what we were doing. Because of the respect and love the students acquired for the fine arts personnel we began to attract “at risk” youth- the ones who didn’t do well in school, the misfits, the loners, the ones who were most susceptible to getting into trouble. They thrived under the strict rules, regulations and requirements of the program. Because they had to keep up their grades in order to participate they worked hard and even tutored each other.
One student, because of his expertise as a theatre technician, was offered a full scholarship at a south Texas college. The problem was that although he should have been a senior he only had the credits of a sophomore. He studied for the GED exam and passed it. He came to me with tears in his eyes and announced, “It looks like I’m going to college!” The last I heard of him, he was gainfully and happily employed as a registered nurse.
Those that didn't feel comfortable singing, dancing, acting or otherwise performing, thrived at building sets, making costumes or running the sophisticated light and sound equipment. It got to the point where many of the kids had to be chased away at night so we could all go home to our families.
One year each drama student was charged with writing, producing and directing a one-act play. When it came time to perform their original works a “theatre in the round” was set up, the plays were staged and their peers became the audience and critiqued their efforts. One weekend evening the students were actively and animatedly engaged in showcasing the offspring of their creativity when an irate parent, the father of one of the young theatre students, came storming through the stage door. “Where is my son?” he demanded.
When I ascertained the name of the student in question, it turned out that the boy was performing on stage at that very moment, showcasing the play he himself had written. The father stood silently in the wings and watched his son until the play ended. He tried to hide his emotions as tears streamed down his face. I could tell that such feelings were foreign to his nature. I had never seen the man before- he obviously did not often frequent the school.
As I led him back to the stage door, he said that his son had been telling him and his wife that he was always late coming home because he was at the theatre. “We did not believe him,” he said with a heavy Spanish accent. “We were sure he was hanging out after school with his gang-banging friends getting into trouble. He tried to tell us but we didn’t believe him.”
After this incident, I often asked myself, “Where are my sons and daughters?” I determined to make sure that I was an active participant in their activities. Because none of them attended the school where I worked, I often found it necessary to delegate some of my responsibilities to others so I could participate in and enjoy my own kids’ passions and talents. I also made sure that my colleagues, those who made me look so good, also enjoyed the some privilege. I have never regretted it. (Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org)