Mistakes Were Made
(Originally written on 4/16/2013)
One year ago this Friday, a terrible mistake was made and I was offered employment as Director of Instrumental Studies at the Lawrenceville School—one of the premiere preparatory boarding schools in the United States. I remain unclear as to why I chose to apply for the job, and I remain even more unclear about why I was courted and offered a contract. I can, however, say with great certainty that I am a great fit for the job, and that the job has been a great blessing to me personally, professionally, and musically.
My departure from the School District of Philadelphia was not without regret—in fact, I still carry a good bit of something akin to “survivor’s guilt”...why did I get out when so many didn’t? How can I justify abandoning my post? Given my world view (and thoughts on education)…how could I leave the 5th most persistently dangerous—and chronically underperforming—high school in Pennsylvania to take a position at one of the top 10 private high schools (…and the second most expensive private high school) in the nation?
I could justify my leaving by citing a toxic work environment or insurmountable challenges and unrealistic goals—but I’d be lying. Not only that, but I was GOOD at urban education! Yes, that’s a bit of hubris coming through, but it’s justified here—I pulled an urban instrumental program out of the grave at Lincoln High School. Of course I had help (lots of it), but I led the charge. And I can say with 100% certainty I left the program in far better shape than I found it. I snapped a picture of the Lincoln Band Room on my last day there—it still makes me very reflective when I look at it. I succeeded in an environment where many could not—and my students succeeded as a result. Yes, the tide turned at the end—a building administration that could only be characterized as moronic and the constant layoff threat got to be a bit much, but I would have weathered the storm. Was it perfect? No. Were there days when I ran screaming from school? Yes—quite literally. But there were many moments when I knew someone’s life had changed for the better because I helped move them in that direction. Talk to others in education, they’ll tell you it’s not an exaggeration.
There’s another interesting coincidence happening in my life at this moment—once again, I’m playing a show at Interboro High School. I first played in their pit in 2002. Delaware County seems to be a recurring constant in my life—especially when you consider the years 2006-2009. That was when the first “terrible mistake” was made—when I was hired at Ridley High School as Director of Bands. How do I characterize my time there? Quite good. I’m letting myself admit this for the first time (publically)—I probably shouldn’t have left. I chalk up my departure there to youthful stupidity. Don’t get me wrong…I love where I’m at. But I left a good thing behind when I drove down the Morton Avenue hill for the last time. Being back in Delco is giving me some very weird feelings—my departure feels temporary…almost like a leave of absence…time will tell.
I suppose time will tell a lot of things—I have a very good orchestral program here, some good private piano students, good classes of 12 or less highly motivated students, and just this morning an intelligent argument broke out in my advanced theory over the spelling of a French 6th chord. As I dig my heels in here, I’m reminded that I’m fortunate to have wonderful co-workers, an intellectually stimulating environment, motivated students, and a facility that most universities would kill for. Who knows what the title of the next chapter will be.